Activists at UK Feminista's lobby of Parliament in October 2012. Photo: Getty
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How to make yourself feel happier about feminism

If you're fed up with Twitter storms, there are a few more practical things you can do to further the feminist cause.

Tired of Twitter storms? Uninspired by infighting? If the recent comment pieces surrounding feminism are to be believed, then the movement has become one hell of a navel-gazing drag. It's struck us that, among all this hand-wringing about hand-wringing, too many people have started to feel a bit depressed about something we hold very dear to our hearts. So, with that in mind, we've compiled a list of things you can do that should make you feel a bit happier about 21st century feminism.

Get involved with the Josephine Project

The Josephine Project, based in Newcastle and founded by an indomitable community arts organisation of women who call themselves Them Wifies, came out of a drama workshop. Josephine is a "life size, three dimensional anatomically correct cloth puppet" who is used to explore issues of sexuality with disabled women, who are statistically at much higher risk of sexual abuse. Using Josephine to help those with learning disabilities to understand sex and relationships, a dedicated team of workers address issues that may have never been addressed in the women's lives before: one recent New York Times profile detailed how the idea that they were allowed to say "no" to sexual advances was alien to a majority of participants before discussion. You can get involved with the Josephine Project and other equally worthy campaigns by Them Wifies (such as the domestic violence course Mams For A Change) here, and donate to them here.

Host a Chalk Walk with Hollaback!

The anti-street harassment group Hollaback! have been strangling catcalls across the world for a while now, but there's still time to host your own Chalk Walk. All you need is a load of chalk, maybe some stickers, a couple of women, and loads of creative catcalling puns. Hollaback! has been challenging street harassment across 71 cities and 24 countries, holding local nonviolent demonstrations that challenge everything from people's public reactions to the hijab to people who think of lesbian couples as "free entertainment" (yes, really). Let everyone know that the only people who catcall are pussies. Find out about hosting your own Hollaback! Chalk Walk, or setting up your own local branch, here.

Help end female genital mutilation (FGM)

Britain has been paying of FGM the long-overdue attention that it deserves this year: this week saw Michael Gove agree to write to all schools about its devastating effects before the summer holidays, following a campaign and petition by 17-year-old schoolgirl Fahma Mohamed. However, there is still a lot of work to be done, including the provision of mental health services to those who underwent FGM in their childhood. Leyla Hussein and Nimko Ali have been doing tireless work to end FGM and support its victims with their nonprofit organisation Daughters of Eve, and their holistic approach means that they're always in need of more supporters with varied skills. Get involved here.

Join your local Fawcett Society

Fawcett has been going since 1866, so what have you been waiting for? Local groups abound across the UK, and you're certain to be in sensible proximity to at least one. They count on the participation of each group's members to spread their wide-ranging campaigns, write and produce newsletters, and vote for the actions they should undertake in the next year. Head to their AGM, share their message on social media, and help the Fawcett Society become even more diverse. You can join here - and you can even buy one of those 'This is what a feminist looks like' T-shirts that looked so fetching on Bill Bailey.

Man the phones at the National Domestic Violence Helpline

They're open 24 hours a day, run in partnership by the charities Refuge and Women's Aid, and they're completely free. But they're always looking for more people to answer phones for periods when the people calling outstrip the number of people able to pick up. Making a phone call about domestic violence often involves short snatched opportunities, so it's imperative that the helpline has enough volunteers available. If you think you might have the time, you could do worse than looking into becoming a helpline operator here.

Become a trustee at Women For Refugee Women

Women For Refugee Women is a charity run by Natasha Walter - her of Living Dolls fame. It aims to bolster and safeguard the rights of women and children seeking asylum in the UK, and supports a number of grassroots groups (such as Women Asylum Seekers Together London) helping refugee women to have their voices heard on issues affecting them. They hold a number of forums with refugee women in the UK, and run groups including English classes, practical financial advice for recently arrived asylum seekers, and safe spaces for victims of human trafficking to discuss their experiences. Fundraisers and volunteers are always needed, which you can find out about more here, and the charity is presently looking for three new trustees with past experience in charity law or communications.

Request a Generation F workshop at your school

UK Feminista offers some inspiring workshops that challenge gender perceptions, and offer resources for both students and teachers for setting up a day with them. Workshops can be tailored to age group, and start combating prejudice and media bias young. It's well worth looking into what they offer, or getting hold of their guide for setting up school-based feminist organisations.

Visit the Herstories Archive

The Herstories project began in July 2012, when founder Radhika Hettiarachchi returned to Sri Lanka after working in crisis areas for the UN. After years of conflict, she decided to encourage empathy between previously warring communities by collecting family histories from the mouths of mothers across the country. The resulting archive is fascinating, and has done so much social good in such a short time that Radhika is now training groups in Afghanistan to do the same. Pictures and stories from the Herstories archive will go on display in London in March, and further details about the project can be found here.

Donate to Rape Crisis every time you see an angry tweet

Our final recommendation comes straight from our own experience: we've both begun to do this every time we see a Twitter storm erupting. Stepping away from the keyboard and onto a donation page in these cases has the potential to do serious damage to your wallet, but serious good in the world - and trust us, it's therapeutic. Happy feministing, everyone!

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war