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Call Me Medusa

By Amy Clark

tw: rape mention, misogyny, racism body policing,

Call me Medusa,

for my monstrosity is not mine to bear

but yours to fear.

When I first started writing this article, it was going to be about the rape of Medusa and the analogy between her punishment and the treatment of rape victims in modern society. A god raped Medusa and she was punished for it with ugliness and exile from society. When women are raped today they are blamed, ostracised and ‘othered’ in an eerily similar manner. Because when the perpetrators of a crime are untouchable – whether because they are gods or simply because of their dominance in society – it is the victim of their crime who ends up being blamed for it.

But this is going to be about ugliness: about ugliness as a punishment and a weapon against women, about the power that people calling (or making) you ugly have over you and about the power that you can have over them in return.

If you’ve ever seen Mean Girls you might remember the scene where the Plastics stand in front of a mirror and say in turns what’s wrong with their bodies. They insult their nailbeds, their hairlines, their pores. Then, in a voiceover, Cady says, “I used to think there was just fat and skinny. But apparently there’s lots of things that can be wrong on your body.”

And she’s right.

Ugliness is being fat and being too skinny, yes, but it’s also having skin that isn’t white, having short hair, having outspoken opinions, saying no to a guy, wearing baggy clothes, wearing tight clothes, showing too much or too little skin, having a big nose, having a small mouth, being a feminist, being too educated, not being educated enough, eating too much food, biting your nails, not shaving all of your body hair, fucking too many people … Ugliness is everything about us that isn’t ‘right’, which means it’s every part of us that doesn’t live up to an idealised and impossible standard of what it is to be a woman or a person.

Calling women ugly is a fear tactic in itself and ugliness has been used as a weapon against us for so long. When we live in fear of being ugly we live in fear of being ‘outside’ of society and we try and try and try to do everything we can to fit into the restrictive lines of what ‘normal’ is. If a characteristic of yours is something societally viewed as ugly – and everyone has many – then you are consistently being told that you are not right and that who and what you are is not okay.

In the same way, calling someone ugly or calling some characteristic ugly is a gross way of perpetuating so many different forms of discrimination in society. When women bleach their skin, it is because darker skin is considered uglier. Women shave or bleach their body hair because hairiness is an ugly quality for a woman to have. Queer and masculine women are ugly because their presentation does not fit with the stereotypical concepts of femininity and what it is to be a woman. Ugliness and what is ugly is not a subjective opinion, it is a response to age-old and pervasive discrimination, oppression and elitism.

But where does Medusa fit into this?

DuBois has said that ‘The myth of Medusa, is a myth of fear of women, fear of […] their self-sufficiency, their buried power’. DuBois is not talking about Medusa when she was ‘beautiful’, when her existence fell within the norms. All of Medusa’s ‘power’ comes when she is made ugly and exiled from the rest of the world. And the power isn’t because she was ugly, but because she was unapologetic about her own monstrosity. Her ugliness wasn’t something she could change or cover up – she was unequivocally and irrevocably ‘other’ – it was something that terrified and (literally) petrified the rest of society.

Whilst it’s hard to talk about ‘buried power’ without sounding like a pretentious self-help guru, what I and many others have found is that we have to stop apologising for ourselves and the parts of us that are ‘ugly’. We accept ourselves as ‘other’ because the ‘normal’ that we’re supposed to fold ourselves to fit is just a load of impossible restrictions that have nothing to do with subjective beauty and everything to do with damaging and systematic discrimination.

As much as I wish it was true, practising radical self-love and refusing to apologise for whatever is monstrous about you doesn’t give you the power to turn people to stone when you glare at them. Deciding that you won’t accept the body policing that society tries to impose on you wont suddenly mean that you love yourself, because ‘ugliness’ is too ingrained for us to magic it away.

There’s the cliché that as long as you’re confident, people will think that you’re beautiful. This is bullshit. Confident women get insulted and called ugly all the time. But when you tell people that you don’t give a fuck – when you show off your unshaven armpits in pride, when you say your opinions loudly and don’t shut up when people disagree with you, when you wear the hotpants and don’t apologise for it or try to cover up – at least people are fucking terrified.



On being an Angry Girl on the Internet

by Martha Rose Saunders

A few weeks ago, I discovered that the “other” inbox on Facebook existed. When I opened it, scrolling through the hundreds of messages sent to me by strangers over the course of five years, I started crying. Amongst the incomprehensible scam mail and bizarrely misguided attempts at flirting from mysterious sleazy men were the messages I’d been waiting to read all my life. They were messages sent by strangers and friends of friends who’d seen comments I’d written on Facebook threads or found my articles shared, thanking me for taking the time to call someone out on sexism or classism, admiring me for having the courage to stand up for what I believed in, wishing they had done so themselves. There were messages from men I’d deleted for their continued sexist behavior, sending me messages months later to tell me how much I’d made them think and apologizing for the harm they’d caused. Tears streaming down my face, I read paragraph after paragraph of praise, gratitude, support, and love.


The complete emotional collapse I experienced made me realize how much I had come to hate myself for my outspokenness. I know I’m something of a joke among both friends and enemies. I know you mock me both to my face and more viciously behind my back for my feminism and my proclivity for Facebook ‘debates.’ What I didn’t realize is how much I’d internalised that rhetoric and allowed it to harden me.


I can think of almost nothing that gets you more shit than being an outspoken young feminist. By the time I left sixth form I was hardly a radical, merely a normal teenage girl who happened to have Labour party membership and a vague understanding of sexism which didn’t extend to much more than actively complaining about having my tits grabbed by a stranger in a nightclub. By that point, I had already had a personal parody twitter account set up about me called Shut Up Martha (tagline “just shut the fuck up, nobody cares”) and a small cohort of boys who laughed and mimicked my voice if I spoke in Politics class and took it upon themselves to inform fellow men who deigned to flirt with me at parties that I was The Feminist and thus they should avoid me at all costs.


The Feminist – that was my identity now, and I could be nothing more. A radical change in people’s perception of my personality occurred. Never mind that my most frequently complimented traits before I became The Feminist were my sense of humour and my laid back, logical approach – that didn’t fit people’s idea of me, and my real personality didn’t matter any more. The Feminist is angry, shouty, humourless and irrational – so that’s what I am now. I’ve gone from popular, funny, chilled, and well liked to an “arrogant cunt,” a “cocky fucking bitch,” a “fucking pathetic” “Feminazi” who needs to “shut the fuck up, nobody cares.” Last week someone on Twitter informed me that “everyone knows about you and tells me about your fucking shitty pathetic internet activism.”


This isn’t unusual. Most of my outspoken female friends find their acquaintances taking to cyberspace to punch them down the second they get up and start talking for themselves, from the Tab commenters who spew misogynistic bile at Women’s Campaign members to my friend who found herself the subject of bullying tweets for appearing on a pre-election debate on TV this week – tweets by people who hadn’t even watched the show or heard what she had to say, but merely opposed her right to express political opinions full stop.


I won’t waste my time elaborating on why this is blatantly a manifestation of the archaic, sexist sense that women should not be confident, opinionated or strong. Nonetheless, somewhere along the way I absorbed it. I hated myself so much. Every time I put forward my opinion, shared something, commented on something, the core of me felt deeply, deeply ashamed. I would listen to the assaults on my character and believe them, go to bed after a Facebook debate in floods of tears and racked with self-loathing.


I cried that week in my little University room last term because those messages made me realise that I mattered. For every person who’d tried to stamp me out there were ten who rushed to support me, hold my hand and love me. For every man who’d felt threatened by the fact I dared to criticise him, there was one who’d written to thank me for the impact I’d had, tell me I had made a difference to him, and that he respected me.


I’d allowed people to turn me into exactly what they wanted me to be; an angry girl, hard as nails, tumbling through life lashing out and screaming into the wind. I saw myself as part of a constant losing battle against the few people who bullied me, instead of as part of a chain reaction of people, constantly touching each others lives, constantly changing one another for the better. But simultaneously, the vitriol I received in response to the most mild sentiments I expressed about gender only radicalised me further, proving beyond doubt that my sex was affecting people’s perception of me more than I ever realised. Most young, political, feminist women you’ll meet are tough, angry and cynical because we have to be. If I wasn’t, I would crumble in the face of the pure, unmitigated hatred I receive.


What I would want to share with people from my experiences, is this; next time you’re about to criticize me, or another outspoken woman, (or man for that matter) for being too “politically active” on the internet ask yourself;


“is what I’m saying about her coming from a place of misogyny? would I say this about any of the men on my feed throwing their opinions all about the place?”

“why could she be so angry and defensive about this? what kind of crap has she had to put up with, growing up in a sexist world? could I just be unhelpfully adding to a toxic culture that is constantly trying to put down outspoken women?”

“literally why do I even give the slightest shit about what this poor person is doing with her own time on her own personal social media accounts? what is making me care so much? what the fuck is wrong with me? do I need a hobby?”


And what I’ve learned, and what I want to tell the other angry girls on the internet – keep going, and know that you are loved. Know that you are making a difference to people. Know that every misogynistic twat who tries to knock you down is only doing so because by speaking against him, you make his dying order crumble. Know that every time you stand up for what you believe in, you are making a difference to people. Tell each other how much you admire each other. Become each other’s support system. And know that every day you are revered, quietly.


Know, finally, this – a message sent to me by a stranger in 2013.

“For each and every one of your comments, there were many more that were never written because of lack of energy or conviction that it would change anyone’s mind. You just made the world a little bit better and people like you deserve to be commended.”


– Mathilde Sergent



I had been living with God
eating plump fruits that gave in my hand
to no-one
my soft fealty

girl, I had desires likes waves, reaching
relentless, pushing up, their heavy roar
then falling sibylline and blue

My mother
impressed on me the importance of surrender


I have not grown white
I was not born white

but tell me you
who are the needle to my thread
do you know? What damage
imposes your impression

‘Break first
the soft outer shell
to carve into the flesh
small, spaced-out, tiny holes’

I assumed the holes were for breathing
not a leash


Now I am tall and sharp
I am my own fabric’s needle
but it is you

not me, who have shaped the clay
of this heart; who have made me doubt
and bend

No it’s you
you have made me feel
and forget
you have dirtied me—you, dog
you have bit my hand—


Actually, Nah, Feminism Isn’t About You At All: a Response to “Feminism’s Duty To Gay Men”

– Martha Perotto-Wills 

[content note: discussions of misogyny and homophobia, mentions of slurs & sexual harassment]

So Hesham Mashour, depressingly omnipresent and opportunistically faux-left-wing student journo, has outdone former journalistic glories (e.g. that article arguing mentally ill and disabled students are just not tough enough and shouldn’t have applied to Cambridge in the first place) by writing this thinkpiece about gay men, misogyny, and feminism for Get Real.

Read it? Yeah, I know. Grim. Also, full disclosure before I go on, I said this was a bad article on Twitter and then Hesham replied (in a tweet that has since been deleted) “You’re not even queer”, so like, this is a bit personal – but I don’t have to have been sexuality-policed and insulted by the author to recognise that the thinkpiece itself is a pile of steaming shit on every level possible, to the extent where it’s difficult to even know where to begin criticising it.

But I hear that the very beginning is a very good place to start, so first off, and relatively innocuously: man, read a history book. Pretty much every historical point in this article is wrong – from the popular misconception that Classical Greece was a Utopian pride parade for 2010s-style gay male relationships and not a society that venerated and institutionalised highly heteronormative pedophilia, to the complete failure to recognise the fact that sexual identity as we conceive of it today is really a very modern (i.e. within the last 150 years) invention. Using current terms to discuss historical sexual practices, and viewing historical attitudes to sexuality through a lens of modern systems of oppression, is just plain bad intellectual practice. It invalidates any arguments an author could possibly be making based on historical example, and belies a pretty damning ignorance of the topic they’re writing about.

Anyway, after this misinformed romp through times past we are treated to the argument that, because both gay men and women (notice something missing here? yeah, I’ll get to that) suffer from pay gaps in the UK compared to their straight and male colleagues respectively, misogyny and homophobia are the same thing. I mean, it’s certainly true that, because of the structure of our society, different oppressions often manifest themselves in similar forms: both women and queer men face discrimination at work, lack of positive media representation, and the threat of violence in public spaces, to give just a few examples. It takes a bizarre, twisted logical leap to argue that this means they face the exact same form of oppression.

Hesham has also said that gay men should be allowed to “reclaim” the word “slut” as someone who has been called a slut before, and thus apparently faces the same structural misogyny as women. The issue of reclaiming slurs is a contended one in liberation politics discourse, but there is a very basic consensus that reclaiming slurs is the sole decision of members of the marginalised groups that those words are used to control, humiliate, and oppress – by definition, you simply cannot ‘reclaim’ a slur directed at a group you’re not part of, especially not if you (e.g. a man) are a member of the group that oppresses them (e.g. women). That’s not reclamation, it’s upholding existing hierarchies of oppression. But I’m waiting on the edge of my seat for another Get Real article arguing that straight men who’ve been called “fag” in locker-room fights with their bros should be encouraged to ‘reclaim’ that term for themselves!

After that, the author seems to deal with some latent annoyance at both drinking society homophobia and the fact that CUSU LGBT+ doesn’t have a campaign to combat this (both certainly real problems that need tackling) by blaming it on, um, all of feminism. “This would be misogyny if I were female,” Hesham writes, as The Point whistles merrily past several thousand miles above. Yes! If you were a woman, you would experience misogyny. But you’re not. So you don’t. This seems to me like a relatively simple concept to grasp. Both these points – even aside from not recognising that the work the CUSU Women’s Campaign does against drinking societies is to fight all the oppressive aspects of them, whether those are based on gender, sexuality, race, class, etc – fundamentally fail to grasp a pretty vital fact about feminism: yeah, feminism can help men, because part of feminism is getting rid of the patriarchy, and the patriarchy (as we are so often reminded by the more self-centred and loud-voiced of our ‘allies’) hurts men too. But feminism isn’t about men. It’s about the liberation of women. And if men, regardless of their sexuality, are distracting from that fact by demanding that feminism has a “duty” to pay more attention to them, and then refusing to listen to women who tell them they’re wrong, they very clearly do not care as much as they claim to about the elimination of gendered oppression or the liberation of those who face misogyny.

Actually though, while what the article does say is odious enough, I’m really more concerned with what it doesn’t talk about, and I think its omission of a couple of key points is very revealing of how insincere the author’s supposed commitment to anti-misogyny is. What I mean is this: if someone asked me my thoughts on possible links between misogyny and homophobia, two key points would come to mind, and neither of them would be ‘they’re the same thing and gay men have it worse off’.

One link I’d make is the perpetuation of misogyny by gay men. Pretty much every woman I know (regardless of sexuality) can think of instances where they’ve faced sexism from a gay man. Getting groped in clubs by men who defend their objectification and harassment with “it’s fine, I’m not attracted to you”, Perez-Hilton-style gendered shaming of women’s bodies and fashion/life choices, gay men who talk often and loudly about how disgusting vaginas are (thereby adding cissexism and transphobia into the bigotry mix) – this is a well-documented and widespread problem. To completely fail to bring this issue up in an article about the links between homophobia and misogyny is disingenuous, and belies the author’s real lack of compassion for the people who really face misogyny.

The second point is to finally address the conspicuously missing piece in the article: ACTUALLY, QUEER WOMEN EXIST. To write a thousand words on the link between homophobia and misogyny and fail to consider intersectionality, to not even once mention that there are real people who face homophobia and misogyny simultaneously, is bafflingly ignorant at best and actively thoughtless and offensive at worst. Queer women exist, Hesham, hi, no matter how much you police our sexuality over Twitter! And unlike you we actually do deal with the combined weights of misogyny and homophobia every day, and your self-obsessed erasure of our existence and experiences from your sub-par thinkpiece about the links between those oppressions is pretty fucking misogynistic and homophobic in itself.

And maybe I’m being unfair – and maybe not – but if you use the word “controversial” in every social media post you make about your article on feminism and say you “can’t wait” for the “haters”, you probably don’t need feminism. If feminism for you is an edgy thinkpiece topic to get your student magazine’s website a higher hit count, you probably don’t need feminism. If feminism for you isn’t something that touches the entire way you view the world, every single interaction you have with another human, the way you think about yourself – if feminism isn’t life-or-death work for you, but a way to boost your fucking web brand, you probably don’t need feminism.

One last point: I know for a fact I’m not the only member of the Cambridge LGBT+ community who has not written for Get Real because Hesham Mashour is editing it. In the absence of a better alternative or a Get Real editorial coup (hint hint), the Gender Agenda blog is always open to submissions and we’d really love to accept anything queer-related you’d like to write.

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