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A Hairy Situation for Women's Aid

When a group of hairdressers called The Hair Bares phoned the Scottish Women's Aid (SWA) to inquire about making a £600 donation (that's nearly $1000 USD), they received something of a shock. The organization refused to take it. SWA Spokeswoman Jacq Kelly explains:

We are a feminist organisation and of course we are happy that these women feel empowered by what they are doing. But, we are opposed to the sex industry and we have an issue with women removing clothes. There are underlying reasons for why a calendar of naked women sells so well and we as an organisation are not comfortable with this.

Okay. Point taken. Except that I can't help but find the SWA's rejection slightly hypocritical given their recent awareness campaign advertisement, which features actress Keira Knightley, who has routinely appeared nude in films and media, including the cover of Vanity Fair:

So if a group of domestic violence survivors offer their assistance it's anti-feminist, but when a world famous actress does the same it's cool?

The Hair Bares were taking cues from the 2003 film Calendar Girls, in which eleven middle-aged Englishwomen strip down to their birthday suits in order to raise money for a local hospital. The film was based on an actual calendar produced by the Women's Institute that features each woman demonstrating a skill she'd learned from her participation in the organization. The media caught wind of the story, and the Women's Institute ultimately raised over $3 million for the hospital, so it's not difficult to see why The Hair Bares believe this type of fundraising to be effective. Group member Morag Hill is offended by SWA's comments:

I had eight years of domestic abuse and I have always wanted to do something to raise awareness and funds…I don't see how our calendar has any sort of resemblance whatsoever to something selling in the sex industry…and I am deeply offended by what they have said. This calendar has been very tastefully done and I think that, rather than demeaning women, it empowers them…We will be going ahead with the calendar regardless of what they say as there are lots of women out there who need this help."

Unfortunately, Hill is right, and I'm sure their funds will find an appreciative home elsewhere.

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Comments

12 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Typo - £600 is actually nearly $1,000, not $100

Just FYI...

eep!

Thanks for the catch! I'll add that missing zero.

Scottish Women's Aid, Nudity, Violence, Liberation

The CutMovie.co.uk Brought to you by Women's Aid and starring Keira Knightly was frightfully disturbing. Morag Hill, who herself suffered over eight years of domestic abuse, posed nude in a not at all pornographic, tastefully done nude calendar to raise money for Women's Aid. For Lily Greenan of the national office of Scottish Women's Aid to apparently equate posing nude for a calendar with violence against women is quite callous toward Morag Hill. Equating posing nude to benefit Women's Aid with promoting the exploitation of women is outrageous. Does Lily Greenan think perhaps that women should wear burkas? Or that sunbathing nude promotes exploitation? How about showing an ankle (gasp) ? It's hard to believe that the national office of Scottish Women's aid could be so narrow minded as to turn down the benefit money from the calendar Morag Hill so selflessly posed for. At least the local chapter will apparently benefit. There are places in the world where women are flogged for not wearing a burka. Did they invite it? Is asking women not to pose nude liberating? I don't think so.

Not only is this article

Not only is this article staggeringly lacking in any real feminist analysis but has also been badly researched (actually, did you do any research at all?). Scottish Women's Aid is a separate entity from the English Women's Aid organisation that you reference and had nothing to do with the Knightly ad.

I'm impressed that SWA has taken the difficult route and actually stood firm on it's beliefs, despite hugely negative media coverage and pressure (and now negative coverage by so called feminst blogs..). Commercial sexual exploitation is a huge issue for feminists and the calendar -albeit produced with the best of intentions - is at the beginning end of the continuum of sexually exploitatative material.

Do you have anything to say on the incredible work that Scottish Women's Aid, and the local groups in the Women's Aid network across Scotland, have done to raise awareness of the issue of domestic abuse and to support women and children who have experienced abuse?

A clue that you're getting your feminism badly wrong is when the most hideously misogynist prick that you could ever encounter says he's a feminist cos those chicks are into porn and shit. Thank you for giving us sex work instead of prostitution, bdsm as transgressive sex and pornography as empowerment. Really. Thanks. Another fucking hundred years or so of activism might begin to repair the damage.

don't you love how...

commenters with such rabid criticism so often hide behind anonymity?

Actually, Anonymous, you're the one whose research is lacking. Scottish Women's Aid is a "federation" of Women's Aid. (This means that while SWA is a sovereign entity, it functions in tandem with WA, not unlike the way Planned Parenthood runs.) This is made clear on WA's website.

And I can see how you'd think this piece lacks feminist analysis, though I think a more accurate statement is that it lacks your feminist analysis, which undermines women's agency and right to live self-determined lives. That's a brand of feminism, I'm all too happy to disassociate myself from.

im with swa on this one..i

im with swa on this one..i think that we need to take a stand when we can. if this particular organization feels strongly enough to deny a donation at a time when they so desperately need it, in the name of integrity, this is an org with a backbone...my personal interpretation of the calendar is : its ok for us to use or bodies, and our skin, and all that suggestive nudity implies when its for a "good cause", but don't you dare objectify us elsewhere"..? am i missing something?

the question i have is...

where is the line between exploitation and self-empowerment? and who gets to determine which is which? and doesn't setting one standard, regardless of what that standard is, limit the agency of those who fall outside of the standard?

you see, it's not so simple as just saying "nudity=exploitation" because the reality is that nudity can be very liberating for some people, particularly people whose bodies aren't seen as beautiful: fat people, people with disabilities or scars, etc. it isn't nudity itself that is the problem. the problem is having a hierarchy of values whereby nudity is read in a way that devalues one who is nude. i think burlesque is a perfect example of feminist nudity because it turns so many heterosexist gender and beauty norms on their head, and rather than saying "THAT'S not beautiful, THIS is," it says "all of it is beautiful." ya dig?

exploitation

Mandy Van Deven, I get what you're saying, and I agree with you in the most part, but I think there is an answer to your question "where is the line between exploitation and self-empowerment?" - and that is, it's socially determined by the construction of meanings for different acts.
So, as you rightly point out, for "people whose bodies aren't seen as beautiful" nakedness can be a feminist act, because it serves as a challenge to the social ideal of beauty. But, when these women (choose to) do a naked calender the (feminist) value of that act is debatable due to the understandings we have about calendars featuring naked women! That sounds a little muddled up, but I think I'm trying to say, if these women had made a calendar featuring naked underwear models instead of themselves, we wouldn't think it was empowering. We'd probably think these images were aimed at the male consumer/calendar-buyer/viewer. But the only visible difference between a model posing for a naked calendar, and a hairdresser doing the same, is the extent to which the woman in question conforms to the aforementioned social ideal of beauty. And from what I have seen, these women are quite conventional looking (in terms of legs waxed, made up etc). Which is totally fine, but you can't call it empowering. It accepts the social ideal of beauty; which, as another commenter mentioned, is just the tip of the iceberg of sexualising/objectifying women's bodies. So it's at least a bit problematic.
Unfortunately, it's not in the hands of individual women (like the Hair Bares) to change the distinction between exploitation and self-empowerment. You can't do it alone - that's what feminism, as a political movement, is for!! Whether SWA can justify being so hard line about the funds is another issue, I think. Not much of a conclusion from me I'm afraid!!

I dunno ...

I guess that depends on whether you think these women are the standard (given that they're all ages 31-64, one could argue they're not) and whether you think women who are "the norm" can't also pose nude in a way that counters it.

I think it is necessary not simply to embody an "alternative" gender script, but to resist all scripts. That's why I use burlesque as an example. It points out the performative nature of these things and calls into question the "naturalness" of the norm through the use of irony and playful exaggeration.

What Facebook Has To Say

Laura: I was involved in a similar discussion at the domestic violence program where I work when a group of women wanted to do a bikini car wash to benefit us. We gratefully accepted the donation. Most domestic violence programs receive money from massive corporations that are bad for women who work there and/or the women who make the products they sell. Many of us sell t-shirts that aren't ethically produced as fundraisers. I would call that a lot more anti-feminist than taking a donation from a group of survivors doing virtually any kind of independent project. FYI Hair Bares: if you're willing to send the money across the pond...we'll take it!

Zeyna: for goodness sakes! isnt the core tenant of feminism that we embrace each other and recognize that each women choses her own path to empowerment?!? the feminist movement really needs to stop ostracizing the sex work industry

Jennifer: hmmm... women baring their bodies willingly is anti-feminist? i would think it more anti-feminist that SWA is condeming a group of women for exercizing their freedom to dress hair and be naked.

(1) what would they think of my female family's skinny dipping excursions?

(2) where can i get one of these calendars lol!

Erin: Totally, Laura! At one program I worked at, we accepted all kinds of money/toys from pharmaceutical companies and weapons manufacturers (seriously. So that after abusers had threatened women's lives with guns, the companies that profited from that abuse could give something back, I guess. Ugh.). Seems much more anti-feminist and counter to the mission than ANY kind of survivor-led project!

Willow: This smacks of that irksome concept 'political correctness'. The SWA may simply be afraid that their claims of victims' rights and exploitation of women will be picked apart in the media by rabid conservatives and ACTUAL anti-feminists if they're seen endorsing sexuality in any way. It does of course leave aside the notion that part of what we have all been struggling for is the right to choose how our bodies and sexuality are represented--by letting the status quo decide, we are dis-empowered. A (not so) dirty shame?

Hairbares Charity Calendar

I have read the comments on the Calendar, with both bemusement and interest. Can I just say that SWA did indeed have the right to refuse the donation, it is the way they worded their refusal that was offensive and unnecessary, simply no thanks we don't agree with it would have done. 5 of the women involved are survivors of abuse, the other 6 friends were happy to help raise the funds to aid a very worthy cause, which is what the calendar is about, raising funds.

All of the women involved in the photos are ordinary every day women,mums ,wives ,sisters, aunts, grandmas, no supermodels allowed, they range in age from 31 to 64 yrs old, there are hairdressers, admin assistants, a bank worker [who received a standing ovation from her colleagues on her return to work!] a sales assistant from a jewellery shop, an optical assistant to name a few, they are also church members, there's a karate instructor, they take part in sport, voluntary work, family life > as I said ordinary people.

The fact is they chose to do this project to raise funds for an organisation half of them were more than grateful to turn to at a difficult time in their lives, and the people that don't like it, they can do as SWA did > don't have anything to do with it, don't read about it, don't comment on it just leave it alone, and let those who ARE interested in it donate to the fund. That's all it is > a fundraiser!!!!

The whole shoot was hilarious from beginning to end, and now, of course some of the more mature ladies are offended at being branded as part of the "sex trade" but it won't stop them finishing the calendar.

And how do I know all this for fact? Because I'm the August page, chosen because it's my birthday then and I will be 52 years old, anyone looking less a part of the sex trade you couldn't get, as you will see from my pic on the calendar when it's out on sale. Happily more people are for the venture than against, and we won't let any negativity from any source prevent what our ultimate aim is > to make money for a worthy cause.

Elizabeth

This ad makes me happysad.

This ad makes me happysad. Happy that it was made, but sad that it was necessary to make it. Frankly speaking I wouldn't have made it so realistic. I agree in showing domestic violence at it is. Also, it would be important to make ads about the other forms of abuse and violence, such as emotional, economical and sexual, which are more difficult to represent, as to prove, that would be challenging as well, because we don't easily recognize those ones.