Thursday, 28 February 2019

The Cost of Female Activism is Self-Censorship – But it Doesn’t Have to Be

In 2019, it is not safe to be a woman with an opinion on the internet. This is not to suggest it once was or that it might be in the not-too-distant future; it is simply an undeniable truth all women implicitly and explicitly understand. 

When euphoria around the first-wave of feminism subsided, it gave rise to the second waves’ demands for fairer working conditions and retention of the inalienable right to reproductive autonomy. During this time, women began to regain access to power that had been stripped from them.

Women inherently understand the good and necessary work involved of dismantling the oppressors’ political, economic and social structures comes at a great cost. The oppressors do not yield – they appease.

And, as Oliver Twist experienced when he demanded, ‘Please, Sir, I want some more’, all oppressed groups eventually discover what awaits them when appeasement is no longer an option.

Censorship is oft used to silence the voices of the oppressed who dare to ask for more than what the oppressors are willing to give. When oppressors enact such censorship, it can lead to the even more powerfully detrimental act of self-censorship.  Suddenly, the oppressed are doing the very work of the oppressor.

Let me illustrate how this works by way of an example.

During the sexual revolution of the 1960s, women continued to fight against the patriarchal advertising industry’s objectification of their bodies and ideals. Women’s decisions about whether or not to have body hair became a talking point, as did the appropriateness of female breasts and nipples in public spaces, such as on beaches, television, movies, newspapers and so forth.

Image Description: A person with an afro stands in the center of a stone doorway. They are wearing an orangey-brown crop top with spaghetti straps, and their nipples are clearly visible through the fabric. They are also wearing a faded jean jacket with cuffed sleeves, although shoulders hang down around their elbows. One hand is resting at their side and the other is lightly touching their afro. Their eyes are closed and head tilted slightly to the left. 

As quickly as women began to reach some sort of consensus on the matter, the oppressors began their task of telling women what was and what was not appropriate. For instance, women’s bare breasts, nipples and body hair were only appropriate under certain conditions; women’s breasts were OK if they were objects, not subjects, and body hair was fine, providing it was kept hidden. 

Now, censorship borne of the oppressors began to fragment what was once a unified feminist movement. Women who benefited greatly from the first and second waves (women like myself, whose only real experience of oppression was gendered) began to act as soldiers of the oppressors. They carried out the oppressors’ orders by determining the rules of what it meant to be a woman.

During the 1980s, the third wave of feminism saw feminists go round-for-round against other feminists. Intra-feminist disputes, primarily over the legitimacy of pornography and sex work, raged. Additionally, women began to police other women by imposing westernised ideals of beauty in mainstream media. This act further alienated women of colour, women with disabilities, and women who did not ‘fit’ into whatever version of the female form the fashion industry was glorifying at the time.

Suddenly, women did not need to fear the male oppressor, but rather other women. These women would speak to one another in hushed tones to one another, often ostracising, criticizing, and judging other women’s choices. As the desire to fit in became a main goal, self-censorship ensued. Further, the shame women felt when they did not fit in kept them quiet, because you did not want to be outed as ‘other’. 

And so, the male oppressors outwardly claimed to have provided women with the freedoms and rights previous generations had so desperately fought and died for. Yet, women’s lived experiences did not match the oppressors’ claims.

With the advent of the internet, the world drastically and rapidly changed. The technological revolution that occurred with the introduction of the internet, theoretically-speaking, eased communication between people. But the internet simply opened up the world, letting people read ‘newsworthy’ events as they unfolded in real time. In sum, the internet irrevocably changed the way people consumed media.

The internet allowed any Jane (and Joe) Blogs to create their own spaces with which to do things previously unimaginable. With the internet, people’s potential spheres of influence grew and grew. You could advertise business services to millions, not just your local community, and you could create your own personal page to share ideas and opinions. 

It appeared possible, even likely, that this democratisation of traditional modes of communication would enable the previously disenfranchised and oppressed an opportunity to share, express, emote, and engage in ways from which they were typically excluded. Many people began to feel less isolated. They could talk to somebody sitting on a computer in a far-away place who would not only listen but who understood their same pain and shame. 

Unfortunately, this new frontier was not as glorious as it first appeared.

Not only was access to computers and the internet limited to those who could afford it, but the internet itself became yet another battle ground. Much like the darkened streets that illicit a sense of unease for every solo woman, the internet had a set of rules that women had to play by or suffer the consequences.

The ‘internet’, which for this piece’s purposes I take to mean those companies with the power to dictate how information is shared and consumed, has cast a glaring light on the fact that women are far less free than we have been told. Of course, we have always secretly known we weren’t free, through our own experience.

Our bodies are still heavily scrutinised and controlled. For example, an image of a woman’s nipple is considered ‘offensive’ by Facebook and Instagram, who hide behind community standards that are said to reflect just that, community standards. 

Community standards should reflect community values and be fairly applied. Companies who use community standards as a benchmark for what is and what is not offensive should be transparent in how they use and apply said standards. Yet, in my own and countless other women’s experiences, complaints to companies about content where users have, in absolute terms, breached community standards by sharing obscene images of sexual violence against women are met by inaction.

Conversely, in my own and countless other women’s experiences, we share our own content, only to have it removed for breaching those same standards. Often, the company gives very little explanation as to why content is removed. But the examples I know of, including the removal of images of women breastfeeding their children and images showing menstruation blood or women’s nipples, prove it is the previously silent and invisible worlds of women that are offensive.

It is obvious to women there is no fairness in the application of these community standards.  In fact, these rules are agreed to behind closed doors and are not transparently shared. They are further supported by the army of patriarchal, keyboard, cowards intent on ensuring they are not ‘forced’ to see anything as ‘gross’ as menstrual blood or women’s nipples (outside of pornography).

While overt censorship continues to baffle women everywhere as they navigate online spaces, a more covert war leads women to self-censor as a means of self-protection.

That same invisible army of keyboard cowards are now using freedom of speech to humiliate, degrade and denigrate women. From secret reddit threads through to mainstream media comment sections, women who dare to express themselves or who are simply subjects of a piece of content, are mercilessly trolled. This type of harassment has real and profound effects on women’s emotional and mental wellbeing.  

A couple of year’s ago, Clementine Ford, a well-known feminist author and all-round badass, presented ‘Hate Male’, a show where she shared various types of hate mail she receives daily from men in both her public (as a contributor of opinion pieces to newspapers) and private (her Facebook page) online spaces. While the nature of the show was light-hearted, Clementine assured viewers she was not trying to reduce such vile comments to banter. Rather, she wanted to protect herself from internalising the hatred she receives. One way of doing that for her is through humour.
How utterly soul destroying to go to work each day and wade through rape and death threats from complete strangers for the sole reason you, a paid author, have written 1,000 words about something as urgent and important as women’s rights.

Image Description: A screen-shot of a conversation on Clementine Ford's Instagram account. The first message reads "Should men in the military and police walk around with skirs? Didn't think so - you dumb bitch." The second, from the same person, reads "Or is it just far left nutters on Brunswick street you're talking about? Oh okay - bitch." Ford's reply reads "I don't care if men in the military or the police force wear skirts. Because I'm not a deeply insecure fragile baby who is scared of clothes." 

And what is worse still is the oppressors have again manipulated the players of their game to do their work for them. We are again in an era, not of a unified feminism, but of divisive feminism, where women tear down other women by forcing anachronistic ways of being onto them.

History, so it goes, repeats itself ad infinitum due to the crushing fragility and weakness of the human condition. But the status of the internet is not set in stone, and the disrupters amongst us, those with the mettle and strength to negotiate the scary terrain that comes with being both (a) woman and (b) with something to say, must rally to support all women’s online safety.

Because our very lives are at stake. We must not be silenced any longer.

By: Rachael Thurston


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of the Sydney Feminists. Our Blogger and Tumblr serve as platforms for a diverse array of women to put forth their ideas and explore topics. To learn more about the philosophy behind TSF’s Blogger/ Tumblr, please read our statement here:

Thursday, 21 February 2019

The Life of Social Psychologist Mamie Phipps Clark

Image Description: A black and white photo of Mamie Phipps Clark and her husband Kenneth Clark. Mamie is on the left and is wearing a knit dress and string of pearls. She is smiling and looking directly at the camera. Kenneth is on the right, dressed in a black pinstripe suit, white shirt and black tie. He is wearing tortoiseshell glasses and looking lovingly at Mamie. His hand is rested on her forearm.

Racial segregation affected the lives of every black American during the middle of the 20th century. Mamie Phipps Clark was a pioneering social psychologist who investigated its influence on young black children’s self-esteem and identification. She was also the first black woman to graduate from Columbia University, in New York, with a doctorate in social psychology.

Clark was born on October 18th, 1917, in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Her father was a doctor, while her mother stayed home to raise Clark and her siblings. She had a moderately comfortable and happy life growing up, despite witnessing a lynching when she was six. Her parents were very supportive and encouraged her educational interests.

In 1934, Clark enrolled at Howard University, in Washington, to major in mathematics. However, she quickly became disillusioned with the subject and department, as she felt she had no support from her professors. Around this same time, she met her future husband, Kenneth Clark. They married in 1937. He persuaded her to pursue psychology, like himself.

In 1938, Clark got a job in a civil rights lawyer’s office and the experience had a profound effect on her personal and professional life. She then started her master’s degree at Howard; her thesis was called First Interests in Children and Development of Consciousness of Self. The work focused on young black children and how segregation shaped their social development.

In 1939, Clark and her husband received a fellowship and moved to New York. Now at Columbia, Clark studied under Henry Garret, a notoriously racist professor. In 1943, Clark and Kenneth became the first black Americans to graduate and receive a doctorate of psychology from the university. Clark also had two children and raised them while she studied.

While at Columbia University, Clark and Kenneth produced important and cutting-edge research. Their most famous experiment was the Dolls Test. It involved nearly 300 black children, aged between 3 and 7. The test was designed to determine their racial identification and self-awareness. Each child was shown four identical dolls with different coloured hair and skin and had to choose their favourite. The majority picked the white doll. Not only that, but the children associated the white doll with ‘good’ and the black doll with ‘bad’.

In another study, Clark and Kenneth gave black children drawings of an apple, leaf, orange, mouse, and boy and girl. They then asked them to colour them in using a box of crayons. With the boy and girl illustrations, children were told to use a colour that represented their own skin shade. They could choose whatever colour they wanted for the opposite sex drawing. The results suggested children experienced anxiety when deciding which colour to use.

Clark and Kenneth’s research was pivotal in the landmark court case Brown v. Board of Education. By 1954, the case had travelled all the way to the United States Supreme Court. It eventually ended racial segregation in public schools and saw the integration of white people and black people into the same educational facilities. In the process, Clark had to refute her former Professor, Henry Garret, who argued black children were genetically inferior.

After receiving her doctorate, Clark found it difficult to find employment in her field. Her husband found a teaching position at the City University of New York. As a black woman with her qualification, Clark felt like an ‘unwanted anomaly’She eventually became a research psychologist at the US Armed Forces Institute but hated it. She left after one year to join the Riverdale Home for Children. Here, Clark found her passion in helping underprivileged and homeless black children.

Clark was shocked by how little support was available for black children. Many of the children had mental health issues which went untreated. Those who sought medical treatment were incorrectly diagnosed. Clark suspected black children labelled as low intelligence by white medical specialists actually had treatable learning disabilities. 

In 1946, Clark and Kenneth opened the Northside Child Development Center. The facility provided psychology services for local children in the Harlem area. It was a small operation, with professionals donating their time to keep it running. Clark was the facility’s director until her retirement in 1979. Four years later, she died of cancer. Although Clark faced difficulties in establishing the facility, it still exists today. Clark’s work made a huge difference in the lives of underprivileged children.

Mamie Phipps Clark, PhD, and Kenneth Clark, PhD (
Mamie Phipps Clark – Psychology's Feminist Voices (
Meet Mamie Phipps Clark, the social psychologist who helped outlaw segregated schools (

By: Matthew J. Healy

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of The Sydney Feminists. Our Blogger and Tumblr serve as platforms for a diverse array of writers to put forth their ideas and explore topics. To learn more about the philosophy behind TSF’s Blogger/ Tumblr, please read our statement here:

Thursday, 14 February 2019

The Position of Women in the Jehovah’s Witnesses Cult

Jehovah’s Witnesses is an exclusive and restrictive religion whose members claim to be on the path to an enlightening and everlasting life. However, women raised in this cult claim some of their practices represent a serious violation of human rights. For example, there is no gender equality, and women are prevented from advancing in their careers. Lara Kaput, a former Jehovah’s Witness, reveals the position of women in this organisation.

Jehovah’s Witnesses is a millenarian evangelical religion founded in 1870 by Charles Taze Russell. The Witnesses believe their cult is a restoration of first-century Christianity and the doctrine is based on the entire Protestant canon of scripture, which is considered the inerrant word of God.

Female members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses face multiple restrictions in their life. First, they have the lowest positions in the religious hierarchy and, most of the time, they are excluded from any governing decisions.

“I [was] many levels down the hierarchy. The hierarchy is in this order: The Governing Body, The Travelling Overseers, The Congregations, The Elders, The Ministerial Servants, then men and then women.” - Lara Kaput.

Image of a Bible lying open midway on a table. Most of the picture is in greyscale, except for the strip of fabric acting as a bookmark, which is bright red. 

Lara claimed she was depressed and felt her intelligence was a threat to the community. In the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion, women are supposed to be housewives and dedicate their life to witnessing (a common practice of converting new worshippers through door-to-door preaching). Furthermore, it is rare for Jehovah’s Witnesses women to have access to higher education, because they must procreate and not build careers.

“Females are expected to spend lots of hours witnessing, [therefore] there is no time for a college degree or any other intellectual activities.” - Lara Kaput.

Since childhood, Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught to be submissive and not question anything with regards to their religion. This cult often uses mind control, especially with young women. The elders of the community make sure the women get married, give birth to children and then educate them in the spirit of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion, there is also another traumatizing experience called shunning. If a member disrespects the community or refuses to fulfill orders, they will be automatically excluded from the congregation. Therefore, there are many cases when families are separated, and even close relatives are not allowed to talk to the shunned members.

“I always got into trouble a lot in childhood because I was a critical thinker. If you’re continually questioning [what] you have been taught, you’ll be shunned.” - Lara Kaput.

Black and white image of a white woman's upper torso up to the neck, with arms in the prayer position. She is wearing a floral dress and holding a cross on a chain. 

The mind control goes even further because the personal lives of women are controlled in detail by the elders. Women are pressured to get married and, if they don’t, are labeled as difficult people. So-called leftover women are seen as aberrations, and they are often rejected by the community. There is also a great deal of pressure placed on the intimate lives of women. Jehovah’s Witnesses women are expected to be virgins upon their marriage. The dating process is also very religious. When a young woman decides to date someone, the prospective couple is supervised by family friends or acquaintances to avoid premarital sex.

“If you break the law and have sex, you will be unable to get married and automatically excluded from the organisation.” - Lara Kaput.

Reconciliation is possible. However, the shunned woman is judged by a special committee which decides whether to keep her or not. The members of this commission are allowed to ask her very intimate and uncomfortable questions. For instance, they may ask her to speak in detail about sexual intercourse.

All these practices represent a serious violation of human rights and young women especially are endangered because they are easily manipulated. To conclude, in this religion, men and women are not equal, and there are different expectations for both genders. Men have to provide for the family, while the women have to dedicate their lives to the process of witnessing.

By: Adela Marian

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of The Sydney Feminists. Our Blogger and Tumblr serve as platforms for a diverse array of women to put forth their ideas and explore topics. The opinions shared in these pieces belong to the authors.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

STEMinist – Girlfriends

As a woman in STEM and the reluctant inheritor of a resting bitch face, paychecks and imposter syndromes have been easier to navigate than the perplexing relationship I’ve had with other women. I have found that I generally get along more easily with men than with women. I am aware that I am not the only woman who experiences this phenomenon, and that there are many factors which may have contributed to this, but I do believe that a rather large number of women in STEM fields seem to feel the same way.

While there are undeniably women in every field that face similar situations with fellow women, there seems to be a disproportionate amount of them in fields related to science, math and technology. Personally, I’ve always had to make more effort to connect with most other women than with men, and the ones I did well with seem to face the same struggle. For the longest time I thought it was just a personality thing, which it perhaps is, in part. But being surrounded by other women from STEM who think like this makes me believe that our choice in careers may have had something to do with it.

For one, I’ve mostly been around men while studying and at workplaces. The simple lack of women in my life may have made it tougher to understand how women prefer to communicate, versus how men do. One isn’t better than the other, but exposure to one more than the other would have surely determined how I learned to express myself in public.

With permission from Rebecca Abrantes, a computer engineer who had an all-male bridal party

Secondly, I think there’s a certain amount of awe that the society places on women in such fields, something we must strive to change in the next few generations by making the presence of women in STEM a common occurrence. Perhaps that extra attention or respect from society causes these women to sometimes face the contempt of other equally hard-working, talented and professional women and may even lead the former to develop a feeling of superiority, which further causes rifts in communication and understanding.

Lastly, I think being in any male-dominated field (not just STEM fields) and any discrimination within these fields forces one to develop a sort of an impermeable outer layer as a shield of protection. Being constantly asked to “man-up” doesn’t exactly encourage a free flow of expression and emotion; this can be a hindrance to forming relationships with anyone, not just women. To take it a step further, some women in male-dominated fields even end up buying into the culture of toxic masculinity and wind up perpetrating the abuses of male patriarchy onto their female peers. Call it toxic femininity, if you will.

As I took stock on how being in a STEM field has impacted my ability to connect with other women, I had lengthy discussions with the female engineers, mathematicians and scientists in my circle. It wasn’t astounding that almost all of them could empathize. Most of what I heard was:

“Women can be too judgmental and stand-offish about us; guys don’t really beat around the bush and are a little more straightforward.”

“Maybe it’s just the severe lack of women that I never really learnt how to talk to one.”

“Women compete with other women, as men do with men. Maybe men don’t consider us competition, which is sexist, but it makes talking to them easier. The landscape would be very different once they start viewing women as competition.”

“Some women in STEM are territorial; like males in a group who are both type A personality. They’re used to being the only ones in a group.”

“Women were mostly in clerical jobs in the last century; very few made it into what they call a “thinking job”, labelled as intellectually superior. The labelling continues although women have come so far in every field. Doesn’t help.”

“Maybe women in STEM actually consider themselves superior. STEM fields are given a lot of reverence in society.”

“We’re all in our own cocoons so we don’t talk much about things.”

I also spoke to a doctor who could not relate, so we’re clearly not all like this, thankfully! But I imagine that there is little way forward in the advancement of equal rights until we learn to better connect and bond amongst ourselves than we currently do.

The reason this disparity occurs can be broken down as follows: not enough women in STEM results in those who are in STEM fields struggling to connect with other women, making it harder for them to be “well-socialized” role models able to inspire more women to enter these fields.  It’s a vicious circle. Encouraging both boys and girls to enter every field unabashed, and exposing them to the possibilities of the world early on by degenderizing toys and hobbies, seems to be one of the fastest ways to break this cycle. We cannot begin to relate to each other until we stop enabling toxic masculinity and toxic femininity. And we cannot unite under the umbrella of a common goal if we cannot relate to our peers.

By: Shreyasi Mukerji

This is Part Three in Shreyasi's STEMinist series.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of The Sydney Feminists Inc. Our Blogger and Tumblr serve as platforms for a diverse array of writers to put forth their ideas and explore topics. 

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