The Feminist Hub

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The Hub is under construction

We haven’t written here in a while mainly because what the Hub started out as isn’t what we believe in anymore. We decided we need to change our entire outlook, theme, layout, style and purpose and such re-fashioning of ideas takes time!

We’re shutting down for a while — which means no asks or submissions till we fire back up. 

Hope to see you soon. 

~The Feminist Hub. 

Oct 2

Wanna know what discourse is harming women’s rights?

Trigger warning for mention of being raped and domestic violence

I see this rhetoric a lot within the blogging community. It is commonly used when discussing statistics and atrocitys that happen to the majorty of women, such as being raped or experiencing domestic violence. These are situations that, unfortunately, many women will find themselves experiencing in their lifetime. Although these heinous acts do not happen solely to women, they are experiences that are wholly associated with feminism and women’s rights. When they are being discussed, I often see:

"how would you feel if this happened to your mother, sister, daughter?"

"treat her like you would treat your mother, sister, daughter"

"1 in 3 women [insert statistic here]. That could be your mother, sister, daughter."

This rhetoric encourages the idea that women are not their own human beings with their own thoughts and feelings on what they experience, but merely as relatives to men, and that when bad things are happening to women they only matter if the woman is related to a man.

I understand the point of this rhetoric, I really do. If you personify the victim of a bad action as someone who will be cared about (such as a mother, most mothers are cared about by their children), then you can evoke a much stronger physical and emotional response to a situation from a wider community. By turning the victim into someone that is already loved and cared for, you are more likely to get a larger response - a response that will be positive to the cause you are trying to promote (such as rape statistic awareness).

This would be all well and good (I mean, who doesn’t want to raise a good response to their cause?) if women weren’t already treat and viewed as belonging to men. It’s common for a woman to take a man’s surname in marriage - a practice that originates from the passing on a woman from father to husband. A common trope in Television is two men fighting over the rights to a woman, who she rightly “belongs” to. Women only mattering when they belong to or are owned by men is an all to real problem today and the rhetoric above only works to ingrain that thought even further.

Another problem with that discourse is the complete erasure of anyone who isn’t a woman, or who doesn’t identify as a woman. Men, gender neutral individuals and genderqueer individuals also suffer and experience the same atrocity’s that are usually attributed to “women’s rights”. The rhetoric up there actively erases and ignore the experiences of people and will ultimatly discourage all those who do not identify under the labels “daughter”, “sister” or “mother” to seek help, support and counselling for what they have unfortunately experienced. 

Ultimatly I think there is something inherently dangerous in teaching boys and men that women only deserve equal treatment and respect when they are related to them - either as a mother, a daughter or a wife. Woman are their own human beings, who are entitled to respect and their own experiences without that experience only being given meaning when a man can place his own relatives within it.

I mean, seriously, what does it say about men if the only way they can care about a woman is when she is related to him?

 -Gk

jaded16india:

transsexualferox:

Hi everyone,

I held off as long as I could, but I finally put a donation button up on my Tumblr. Tomorrow I go in for what is probably going to amount to some serious dental work, all of which is necessary, but none of which I can afford right now. My housemate has offered to help out with that, but at some point I’m going to need to pay him back because he’s not rich either. Additionally, my unemployment benefits will be running out soon, and I’m worried about how I’m going to finance my HRT after that happens. Times are tough for everyone, I know, and I don’t expect anyone to donate anything, but I also know it can’t hurt to ask. Much love to all of you. <3

The link.

Signal boost. Renee is a wonderful friend and if you can help her in any way please do. Any help that you can give will be muchly appreciated. 

Signal boost.

The Straw Feminist trope is a deliberately created, exaggerated caricature of a feminist that is used to undermine and ridicule feminist movements. This was probably one of the most difficult and longest videos I’ve made so far, partly because the Straw Feminist is a very complex and twisted representation. I actually cut out about 5 minutes of actual analysis to keep the video at a reasonable viewing time. The Straw Feminist trope has many more facets and MANY more examples but I hope I was able to provide a general overview.

Why an International Women’s Brass Conference?

kungfucarrie:

International Women’s Brass Conference

Why IWBC 2012?

compiled by Lin Foulk, co-host

“The arts, including music, allow us to work through many of life’s issues and conflicts in symbolic yet real ways.”
—Anthony Kemp in The Musical Temperament

Think about your local university or conservatory: how many female brass players are music majors? Now think about the brass sections of major symphony orchestras. How many women are performing in these roles? Here are recent statistics (these statistics were collected by Amy Louise Phelps, DMA student at the University of Iowa, and compiled by Lin Foulk).

Something is preventing all of these female university and conservatory graduates from breaking through into the highest professional ranks. Even in our present day, it is still assumed by many that women brass players are at a disadvantage when compared to men. Arguments commonly cited include women’s lack of strength, lung capacity, aggression, and taste for competition. It is often assumed that women’s impaired abilities in these areas are biologically fixed. Recent brain research shows that the differences between boys and girls are actually very small and are exaggerated through environment and lifetime experience. These differences are learned.

IWBC exists to “educate, develop, support & inspire all women brass musicians.” Everyone is invited to help serve and support this mission. Outlined below are challenges female brass players have faced in the past and present and ways these obstacles to their success can be overcome.

Sexist language
I was told numerous times in my development that I was playing a phrase “like a girl” (used derogatorily) or that I played a particular passage “with balls” (used as a compliment). Even though he apologized, former Boston Symphony Orchestra trumpeter Rolf Smedvig’s sexist critique of a female brass trio in a masterclass at Boston University (as quoted in the Boston Globe in 1991), is indicative of the kind of language that still occasionally exists in brass pedagogy: “Boys, I mean, we grow up at the age of 5, you know, and we’re playing in the dirt and you guys are playing with dolls. I’m sorry to say that, but…some women brass players have a really tough time leaving those womanly traits behind and getting more aggressive. You came out there and it looked like you had your doily dress on and you were going to tiptoe through the tulips, you know, and play this…You can’t do that when you have a trumpet in your hands.”

Jackson Katz, project director of the Mentors in Violence Prevention Project at the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University in Boston says in Crashing the Old Boys’ Network, “One way to look at this is that society has taught young boys for centuries that to be female is to be second class. Little boys are told ‘You throw like a girl,’ as an insult. Or parents will tell their own daughters, ‘You throw like a boy,’ and mean it as a compliment.’”

Using sexist language in brass pedagogy suggests that to be female or feminine is inferior and unsuited to brass-playing. Even though both men and women possess both male and female characteristics (each of us to varying degrees), this can suggest to impressionable young girls that female brass players are inherently flawed. This inferiority complex is unnecessary and can be changed if brass teachers use non-sexist language, such as “play more aggressive here” and “be more assertive with your air.” Girls need to be reminded: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” (Eleanor Roosevelt).

Strength
It is true that the average man is stronger than the average woman. Most of this attributed to the differences in average heights. But this is too simplistic. There is a lot of variation within each gender and the most highly trained and strongest women have enough strength to excel at most athletic tasks and set world records. In Women in Sport, Carol Christensen says, “It should be noted that the quality of muscle is identical in men and women…This means that, given muscles of equal size, men and women would be equally strong. Despite these differences and generalities, women who strength train and compete in power lifting have achieved weight lifting feats which would be beyond the ability of most men.”

Researcher Marian Lowe noted, “There is growing evidence that differences in physical strength could come as much from difference in life experience as from innate factors.” Boys and men are expected to develop muscular strength and are expected to use it more throughout their daily life than women. Sport statistics indicate the gap between the track and swimming records of males and females has been closing fast over the past 20-30 years since professional athletic pursuits have been open to women.

It also depends on how muscular strength is measured. At West Point Military Academy, rapidly scaling an eight-foot wall is one measure of physical competence. Jancie Yoder, in an article called “Women at West Point: Lessons for token women in male-dominated occupations,” recalled that this exercise was particularly difficult for women because it was designed for the male physiology, which favors upper-body strength. Women were provided boosters, but using a booster reduced their overall score. Yoder noticed one-day that instead of pulling with her arms, a woman grabbed with her fingertips and then used her legs to walk herself up the wall. Once her legs were level with her fingers she could pull her pelvis over the wall, capitalizing on an asset of the female physiology: lower-body strength. Playing a brass instrument requires muscular strength throughout the body.

Muscular strength is only one of several factors that contributes to successful brass playing. Give the strongest man in the world a trumpet and it is not a given that this man will play the trumpet well. And being muscularly strong does not imply strength in other areas such as flexibility, coordination, and mental and emotional strength, which all contribute to our success as brass performers. Picking an area where women on average are weaker than men (such as muscular strength) and using that to justify women’s inferiority or exclusion is an exaggerated and weak argument.

Vital Capacity (Lung Capacity)
Vital capacity, which is the amount and speed of air flow in the lungs, is a factor used to distinguish male and female brass players. The strength or volume of vital capacity is dependent upon a number of factors besides gender. Height, weight, age, ethnicity, whether or not a person smokes, and whether a person lives at high altitudes all affect vital capacity. If all of these things are equal, women on average have about a 78 percent capacity of average men. However, as discussed in the previous section on strength, there is a lot of variation within each gender and many trained female brass performers have vital capacities that allow them to excel at playing a brass instrument. Vital capacity, though important, is only one part of playing a brass instrument. The greatest number in regards to vital capacity does not equal a greater player. We should take from this statistic that people (men or women) with smaller vital capacities aren’t inferior and shouldn’t be discouraged from playing brass instruments professionally. Instead they must be trained to be efficient and use a higher percentage of their capacity to match that of someone with a naturally larger capacity.

Testosterone and Aggression
Brass-playing does require a certain amount of aggression and assertiveness and it is well-known that higher levels of testosterone play a role in stronger expressions of these behaviors. However, recent brain research that suggests elevated testosterone levels don’t cause aggression; elevated levels are a response to aggression. As neuroscientist Lise Eliot points out in her recent book Pink Brain, Blue Brain, “Although there’s some suggestion that men with constitutionally higher testosterone levels are more inclined to try to dominate others, researchers are increasingly finding that testosterone works the other way around in adults: it’s more the consequence of male competition and aggression rather than the cause…Boys will be boys, but only as far as they are allowed or encouraged to be.” Cultural tolerance for more aggressive behavior in boys and men causes more elevated levels of testosterone. As an aside, testosterone rises in women as much as men in high-stress situations (for example in a sports contest or high-status job), but women’s baseline testosterone is just a fraction of men’s.

Eliot also notes, “Testosterone is not the only neuro-chemical involved in aggression. Growing evidence suggests that the neurotransmitter serotonin is actually a better marker than testosterone for aggression and violence. Ironically, low serotonin levels are linked to both violent aggression and clinical depression in humans. Though seemingly opposite extremes, these two responses may simply reflect the different ways society sanctions men and women to cope with feelings of low self-esteem or stressful life events.” Therefore, “Males are not slaves to their circulating steroids, nor are women immune to the aggressive impulses fostered by similar hormonal circuitry.”

Physical assertive and aggressive behavior is rewarded in boys and men but discourage in girls and women. “In the female brain, the circuit for aggression is more closely linked to cognitive, emotional, and verbal functions than is the male aggression pathway, which is more connected to brain areas for physical action,” says neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine in The Female Brain. To balance cultural conditioning, female brass performers need to be encouraged to be more assertive physically. Biological factors are not a cause or an excuse.

Competition
Women do compete, but it’s often covert because girls learn early on that it’s not feminine to openly compete. Women also typically compete for different rewards than men (connection and acceptance rather than winning for its own sake). Neuroscientist Lise Eliot says, “Empathy is another factor [in competition]. Girls may lose their taste for competition because they don’t like feeling responsible for others’ losing. Competition also interferes with girls’ more intimate friendships, and it contrasts with the nurturing style they experience with their mothers and teachers.” Said another way, Kathleen DeBoer, author of Gender and Competition: How Men and Women Approach Work and Play Differently says that in general, boys and men are motivated by the score and by winning (no matter the cost) in competitive situations; girls and women are taught winning is not necessarily better than losing if someone gets hurt in the process. Girls need to be taught that winning and succeeding create stronger connections and strengthen people. A balance between competition and cooperation should be encouraged for both sexes. Fear and risk-taking need to be encouraged as much in boys as in girls. Not tolerating fearfulness in boys (“don’t be a sissy”) helps them be more fearless—we need to do this for girls too.

Neuroscientist Lise Eliot says about competition and the brain: “There’s nothing rational about the gender gap in competition. While some men are undoubtedly glad to escape the schoolyard ethos, males as a group are simply more comfortable than women are with overt contests of all sorts—sports, games, spelling bees, and, most important, vying for a prestigious job or valuable promotion…Men and women have different tastes for competition…If talented women are avoiding competition, they’re simply not going to land the highest positions and best-paying jobs.”

DeBoer closes her book with this wisdom: “In the long run, the value of participation in sports has little to do with running, jumping, or throwing. The ultimate merit is in teaching females to appreciate battle and males to value bonding. At its best, sports teaches us how to be whole people…” Brass playing can do the same if we encourage this balance by teaching reticent girls and women that open competition is o.k. and necessary and teaching boys and men that winning isn’t everything.

Expectations
Physically we must expect the same from female brass musicians as we expect from male brass musicians. Research shows that parents have higher expectations for boys’ physical skills as toddlers than girls. Moms estimated the maximum steepness of a slope that they thought their toddler could descend. The study revealed that baby girls actually had more courage to descend a steeper slope, but while mothers were able within 1 degree of accuracy to predict how steep their sons could descend, mothers of girls underestimated their daughters’ abilities by an average of 9 degrees. Underestimation of female physical ability in brass playing puts women at a disadvantage.

Sex versus Gender
Sex describes the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women. Gender describes the social roles and expectations in terms of male and female, masculinity and femininity. Sex and gender are two very different descriptors. Masculine and feminine behavior is learned very early in infancy. Studies show that parents and care-givers respond to baby boys and girls differently, such as ignoring a boy’s crying to “toughen him up” and repressing a girl’s anger. Even before babies speak they understand gender and can distinguish between male and female faces. In Pink Brain, Blue Brain, author Lise Eliot describes how the brain is plastic and pliable, meaning it changes in response to its own experience. “Every physical feature of the human nervous system responds to life experiences and is continually remodeled to adapt to them. The brain changes when you learn to walk and talk; the brain changes when you store a new memory; the brain changes when you figure out if you’re a boy or a girl; the brain changes when you fall in love or plunge into depression; the brain changes when you become a parent.”

There are true innate differences between the sexes, but Eliot says these differences are way over-exaggerated and the male/female differences that have the most impact in life (cognitive skills such as speaking, reading, math, mechanical ability and interpersonal skills such as aggression, empathy, risk taking, competitiveness) are heavily shaped by learning. In fact, men and women share 99.8 percent of the same genes. Experiences, role models and reinforcement heavily shape cognitive and interpersonal development. “As universal as some differences [between the sexes] appear, none is as hard-wired as commonly portrayed. Like every other brain function we’ve considered, the social and emotional differences between boys and girls begin as tiny seeds planted by evolution and nourished by hormones but blossoming only under the hot sun of our highly gendered society” (Eliot).

Anthony Kemp in The Musical Temperament says, “Because we are all conditioned, to some extent, to perceive masculine and feminine behavior patters as two separate clusters, we see the musician’s androgyny [possessing both feminine and masculine characteristics] taking the form of two independent and contrary dispositions. The first one, more commonly associated with femininity, concerns a cluster of traits that involves the predisposition of a person to respond to musical experiences with sensitivity, feelingfulness, insight, and intuition. The second cluster of traits relates to introversion and independence, autonomy, and the motivations necessary for musical progress to be made and which can be viewed…as being masculine. In other words, we might wish to speculate that these two groups of attributes, so frequently perceived as opposites, are task requirements of being a successful musician of either gender…In artists, and in musicians in particular, we may well find that these two sides of their nature are fully reconciled.” All brass musicians should strive to achieve and exhibit in their music the best in the full spectrum of masculinity and femininity.

Why isn’t there an International MEN’S Brass Conference?
There certainly could be. As discussed above and in numerous other books and articles, there have been centuries of male focus and male affirmation in virtually every professional field. Being girlish or feminine has less status and over-emphasizing the differences between men and women has become a power-struggle and a competition for domination. To think that the most recent women’s movement has equalized the balance between male and female ignores the amount of time it has taken to ingrain these male/female dichotomies and overestimates where we currently are in that balance historically. Brass playing has not been immune to this. The fact of the matter is that many brass conferences today still feature mostly male performers.

Because there are currently distinct sociological differences between men and women (even though these differences are mostly learned), many women have expressed to me that their experience of playing a brass instrument is unique to the experience that many men have. As shown above, physical differences such as lung capacity, overall strength, and temperament (nurtured by cultural and societal norms), need not be limiting factors for those of either sex or gender. IWBC 2012 is a conference intended for both men and women who want to celebrate brass-playing by female musicians. It is powerful to see entire ensembles of women brass players onstage! The purpose of the conference is to encourage girls and women to be and play their very best even if they have been discouraged from playing in the past (by men or women). Attending IWBC 2012 is one way you can support female brass performers. Anyone and everyone are welcome to join in the celebration!

Books cited in this discussion
Brizendine, Louann. The Female Brain. New York: NY: Broadway Books, 2006.

Cohen, Greta L., ed. Women in Sport: Issues and Controversies. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1993.

DeBoer, Kathleen. Gender and Competition: How Men and Women Approach Work and Play Differently. Monterey, CA: Coaches Choice, 2004.

Eliot, Lise. Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Difference Grow Into Troublesome Gaps—And What We Can Do About It. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.

Kemp, Anthony E. The Musical Temperament: Psychology and Personality of Musicians. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Salter, David F. Crashing the Old Boys’ Network: The Tragedies and Triumphs of Girls and Women in Sports. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996.

Yoder, Janice. “Women at West Point: Lessons for token women in male-dominated occupations.” In Women: A feminist perspective, edited by Jo Freeman, 4th ed. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield, 1989.

Sep 6

No matter how secure you think your relationship is, be careful. I was engaged to my partner of six years, we talked about having a threesome, he suggested a coworker that I hadn't even met, tried to get me and her to be friends/hang out/cuddle, and then I found out he was cheating on me with her. Thankfully I thought she was rather unattractive so the threesome never happened, but yeah, try online before suggesting anyone either of you know personally, especially if you see them at work/school

Anonymous

Sep 6

For the anon; OkCupid is a great resource for finding casual hookups. I find Craigslist to be a little sketchy but I've been contacted to be a 3rd by numerous couples on OkCupid and they always felt respectful and safe. Upload some pictures of the two of you, fill out the profile in full, and send messages to any cute, open-minded girls you find. You'll be surprised how many there are!

Sep 6

To your anon looking for threesome advice, Generally it's through the net (dating websites, craigslist is also a good place to advertise for that) Be clear on what you want, what your boundaries are. Be secure in your relationship. I have been the woman coming in a couple of times and it an be awkward if there is relationship concerns. Sometimes you can find the third through acquaintances but your best bet is to go to a specific website or community that is into that thing. Sex Shops!

Sep 6

Hello. I wasn't sure where or who to ask about this, so maybe redirect me to someone else. My partner and I are thinking of maybe having a threesome, hes male and a man, I'm female and genderqueer, and we'd be looking for a female person. Any advice on how to go about finding someone?

Anonymous

I personally don’t have any experience with this. 

Anyone who can help out anon?

Sep 4

what happened to feministilicious?

Anonymous

She had some personal things she had to deal with so she removed herself from Tumblr sadly. :-(

Sep 1

You aren’t entitled to touch me.

gkayy:

Two weeks ago I took the train from Leeds (where I study nursing) back to Cumbria (where I’m from). It’s my summer holidays, so I’d died my hair bright pink for going home. It’s 3 and a half hour long journey, so I had a couple of books with me and my Ipod charged full with Jurassic 5 on my ipod (I’m addicted to Quality Control at the moment). So I got my self settled in my seat reading my book and listening to my Ipod quite loud - I couldn’t have made it any clearer that I wanted to be left alone unless I had physically wrote a sign and hung it round my neck.

About half an hour into the journey (and I was pretty engrossed in my book by this point) something touched my hair. Not just brushed it, full on stroked my hair. And as my head whips up from inside my book, I notice a man sitting down opposite me on a mostly empty train. He was smiling at me (in quite a leery way) and started to talking to me. Remember, I’m wearing my headphones, I can’t hear him - why would he try and talk to me?

I removed my headphones and quite calmly (I thought) asked “did you touch my hair?”. He looked at me like I had 3 heads.

He replied “of course I did, it’s pink”. (Seriously, readers it took my all not to reply, “really, I didn’t notice”.)

So I just told him to not touch my hair and went to put my headphones back in and start reading my book again. As I pick up my book he says “why can’t I touch your hair, it’s pink. I’d be flattered if a girl started touching my hair”.

I mean how much fail can one person convey in a sentence? 

I just picked my stuff up and moved to another carriage - I had 2 an half hours of a train journey left, I wasn’t going to spent it sat with this fail. The icing on this cake? Was hearing “bitch” shouted at me as I walked away from him.Yes I was the bitch, for moving away from the man who touched me without permission, sat next to me in a nearly empty carriage and then tried to justify touching my hair.

This is not a rare occurrence. I dye my hair different colours regularly; in the past 6 months alone it’s been blue, brown, black, pink, purple, green and red. I’m used to people staring, but I’m never going to be able to get used to people (and it’s nearly always men) touching me without my permission. 

It’s not just my hair either. I work as a nurse and the amount of patients and relatives who slap my bottom is ridiculous. I’m meant to be a professional and yet it’s deemed acceptable to humiliate and demean me in public, because someone feels entitled to touch me. This happens on nights out as well. It’s humiliating, embarrassing and infuriating. 

Why does this happen though?

The answer is actually right in front of our eyes. Women and people who are perceived as women (it’s ridiculous how much mis-gendering happens when people feel they are entitled to your body) do not own their body’s in any form of medium. Television, the internet, advertising, books, magazines, films - all of them will have a large dose of misogyny with women’s body’s being used to do something; to be sexy, to sell a product, usually a bit of both. Even women’s magazines - magazines for women - will regularly feature half naked women telling you that you to can look like the perfect white, hairless, skinny individual you need to be so someone else can appreciate your body.

Our body’s are our own. They are not commodities to be used, inspected and touched without express permission. We need to be boycotting advertising and mediums that thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to use women’s bodys for their own gains, because it just encourages the attitude that we don’t own our own body’s, that we don’t have autonomy over them.

Men, you need to stop touching women’s bottoms on nights out, or demanding their time and attention when they’re obviously busy with something else. Women are not their to entertain you, they are not “bitches” if they are not intersted in talking to you or indulging you. 

We are not obligated to interact with you. You are not entitled to touch us.

-GK

I've seen a lot of people say that sexism, heterosexism, racism, cissexism, etc. in music/movies/TV/books shouldn't be criticized because it's "art" and the point of art is to "sometimes be offensive" and I was wondering what your opinion on that is? Something else I've read was that music, specifically, shouldn't be criticized because the artist is "putting forth a character" and it's not really THEM that's -ist. Thoughts?

Anonymous

I don’t think I’ve actually heard this argument. I disagree with it.

You can absolutely make art that is intentionally offensive. Maybe to get attention (either personal or draw attention to a specific issue). Maybe just because you want to.

You can even ‘put forth a character’. But if you’re an artist - stand behind your work. Your art is supposed to be your statement. Why would you create a ‘character’ to put forth statements you don’t agree with it?

-kungfucarrie

A feminist blog that uses the word "retarded." It's an offensive, ableist word.

Anonymous

Sorry! That was spam - not sure how it got into this account but I’ve seen it on a few other folks’ recently, too.

Just deleted the post. 

yikes - looks like you've been trolled.

am-

Thanks for the heads up! Just deleted the post 

Aug 3

Abortion: faith-based pregnancy counselling centres found wanting

A ciscentric article on faith based abortion advice services. Although I am ashamed by the ciscentrism displayed here, there are some really good important points brought up, especially in light of Britain handing over it’s care to independent charitys.

Women receiving advice from pregnancy counselling centres run by faith-based organisations are subjected to scaremongering, emotive language and inaccurate information about abortion, according to an undercover investigation by a pro-choice charity.

Hundreds of crisis pregnancy centres(CPCs) offer counselling independently of the NHS. They could take over work performed by abortion providers such as Marie Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), after the government said it was consideringhanding the counselling role to “independent” organisations.

A survey of 10 centres operated by Christian and anti-abortion organisations found evidence in most of them of poor practice and factually incorrect advice, while the quality of counselling differs widely. Advice ranged from scaremongering – linking abortion with breast cancer, for example – to actions apparently designed to steer women away from abortion, such as showing them baby clothes and talking about “the child”.

Researchers pretending to be young women in the early stages of pregnancy conducted the survey for Education for Choice, a pro-choice charity providing education and training on abortion.

Centres visited included those run by Life, recently appointed to a panel advising the government on sexual health. That appointment, as well as renewed pressure from socially conservative MPs to tighten abortion laws and strip abortion providers of their counselling role, has sparkedalarm among pro-choice supporters.

At a Life centre in Covent Garden, London, the undercover researcher was given a leaflet entitled Abortions – How they’re Done, which said incorrectly that 85% of abortions are carried out using vacuum aspiration. It stated that “the unborn child is sucked down the tube” and that “the woman should wear some protection. She has to dispose of the corpse.”

The counsellor was said to have focused on mental health issues that she associated with abortion, telling the researcher she was of a good age to have a child, showing her baby clothes and using terms such as “baby” and “grandchild” when referring to the pregnancy.

While a counsellor on Life’s helpline was regarded as being “friendly and non-judgmental”, she was unwilling to answer questions about physical aspects of abortion, saying she was not qualified to do so. When asked whom to talk to about arranging an abortion, the counsellor stated that the organisation was pro-life and could not recommend any service. She claimed not to know the names of abortion providers.

A counsellor at City Pregnancy Counselling and Psychotherapy (CPCP), London, which came under Life’s auspices until the end of May, repeatedly suggested the client should wait two to three weeks before making her decision on abortion.

The counsellor said the embryo was a fully formed human life and that the client would have to grieve for her loss: “Abortion, whatever reason you might go for that, will become bereavement because this is a baby that’s going to die, if you go down that route. That’s the reality of it.”

A counsellor at Choices Haringey in north London, part of a network overseen by Care Confidential, a Christian organisation, did not know the legal time limit for abortion, claimed that there were no statistics on the number of women who have terminations and had little idea about local services.

The counsellor frequently referred to “The Journey” – a training manual – and handed out photocopied pages from its 10-step “road to abortion recovery”, including steps entitled “guilt and shame” and “forgiveness”.

Other sections of the manual (which were not given to the researcher) state: “Part of the healing journey to post-abortion recovery involves repentance – the only remedy for guilt. If we are to walk this journey with a woman then we need to clearly see which boundaries she has crossed … immorality, coveting, lying, as well as taking innocent life.”

A counsellor at Alternatives Pregnancy Choices Newham, a Care Confidential affiliate in east London, was said to have been friendly, well-informed and able to recommend abortion providers, including Marie Stopes and BPAS.

At Skylight Counselling, a Care Confidential affiliate in Coventry, the counsellor was said to have listed physical and psychological effects she linked to the “post-traumatic stress” of abortion. Literature suggesting risks such as “sub-fertility or infertility” and “increased risk of breast cancer” was given out.

Julia Acott, Care Confidential’s counselling and support services manager, said the organisation was sorry the service provided at Haringey “fell below the standards expected”. The adviser in question would be retrained.

She said Care Confidential became an independent charity on 1 July, adding: “One of the first actions we are implementing is a full review of quality control, training and support across the centres.

"Part of this will include a review of all the published materials, from websites to training manuals, including that for The Journey, where circumstances, thinking and language has moved on in the years since it was published. The training manuals will be updated and rewritten in language that reflects the diversity of people, of different faiths and none, who will use and benefit from it."

Life said: “We are wholeheartedly committed to offering the best service possible to women facing crisis pregnancies by providing them with non-judgmental, person-centred counselling and skilled listening in line with guidelines set out by the BACP [British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy], of which we are a member.

"The misinformation which allegedly a Life worker gave to a mystery client was apparently contained in a leaflet that was not produced by Life. We therefore can’t comment on it but are investigating the overall complaint."

"If asked, we give factual information about abortion and, if the client wants to explore what is involved, we will help her to do so."

CPCP said its policy was that counselling should be non-directive and keep to BACP guidelines.

Lisa Hallgarten, director of education for Choice, said: “We investigated a range of CPCs because we are asked so regularly by commissioners whether this or that centre is OK to signpost young women to.

"We felt it was in the public interest to learn more about how these services operate. We chose to send in ‘mystery shoppers’ to use services as this is a tried and tested technique in mainstream sexual health provision - commonly used to test how young people friendly a service is and get a real sense of what it feels like to be a service-user.

"With the localism agenda, new health commissioning arrangements and the Department of Health considering changing abortion counselling regulations, we expect commissioners to come under increasing pressure to use CPCs."

"Only two of the 10 centres we looked at provided good quality information or support.

"We strongly urge the Department of Health to think carefully about removing women from the professional decision-making support currently offered by abortion providers while the current alternative is a network of unregulated individuals, many of whom are in breach of good practice."