New website gets off to a shaky start: Feminist Times provokes huge row with forced sterilisation article

Editor Charlotte Raven pulls controversial piece, admitting 'we got it wrong'

The founder of a new pro-women’s website has found out what it was like to live in feminist times after an article on forced sterilisation provoked a huge row, dividing its nascent readership.

Barely an hour before Feminist Times pulled the piece, Charlotte Raven, its editor, told The Independent that removing it would be a “bad idea”, insisting that upsetting some people is “what happens if you’re trying to voice uncomfortable truths”.

But she backtracked almost immediately, admitting “we got it wrong” as the article was taken down.

Raven sees the website, and eventual bi-monthly magazine version, as an antidote to glossy women’s titles and even daily newspapers that “airbrush people’s emotions” as well as their bodies.

She had hoped that pieces like the one on sterilising women, which was written by an unnamed contributor under the heading “Taboo Corner”, would provide scope for “honesty” lacking elsewhere.

The incident served to underline the minefield that is modern feminism, which remains as divided today as in its 1970s heyday. Raven herself even joined in, taking a mini-swipe at the best-selling author Caitlin Moran. “When I read [Moran’s book] How to Be a Woman it made me feel like we needed female voices who were being more honest.” She said the memoir had used “feminism as an alibi”.

David Cameron and glossy magazines like Cosmopolitan were also accused of “all using feminism as an alibi, as a marketing tool”, Raven said, adding that the Prime Minister was not entitled to call himself a feminist. “Men can be, but not him, because he isn’t [one].”

She also took issue with the new breed of liberal feminists, attacking campaigns such as “This is what a feminist looks like”, which was stamped across T-shirts, for their exclusivity. “The iteration only works if it’s on a very normal looking person wearing make-up, not a hairy feminist. Liberal feminism that seems inclusive is exactly the opposite.”

Anyone hoping to provoke a Twitter storm with Raven over her views will be disappointed, however, because she intends to avoid the social media site. “I’ve been absolutely tormented by the idea I have to use Twitter. I’m scared. I don’t want to be slagged off,” she said.

Feminist Times has been dogged by controversy ever since Raven disclosed the project six months ago, most notably after a legal threat forced her to abandon her original plan of reviving the iconic feminist title Spare Rib, which was edited by Rosie Boycott and Marsha Rowe.

She pledged that Feminist Times would represent diverse views, particularly those held by trans women such as the playwright Jo Clifford, who is on the website’s editorial board. She added that the venture would not just represent white middle-class women.

Flora MacInnes, editor of rival online feminist website Femusings, which launched two months ago, called Raven's decision to publish the “Sterilise Her” piece was “poor as it alienated a number of people”. But she said she didn't want to berate Raven's venture.

“Feminism is a complex, multi-faceted, disparate thing and so it's vital to make it intersectional and inclusive, not to sideline other cultures and groups, to listen to one's audience, which is difficult to get right but certainly possible.”

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