Good stuff on the internets – Part 4

Does what it says on the tin.

This month we have:

Miriam Elia’s spoof We Go To the Gallery. I first saw a link to this book on Blue Milk (another fantastic blog by the way) and it’s just the best thing I’ve seen in ages. Elia is currently in a wrangle with Penguin over copyright. I really hope she comes out on top.

This post: Strong, not skinny on Gia’s blog. This is the post that inspired me to start doing press ups. I can now do twelve.

I read the New Statesman a lot. Because it’s really good. This article by Laurie Penny is particularly good. Did you know the Metropolitan police are buying in water cannons – never previously used in this country – in preparation for the summer? Austerity measures and spending cuts will likely see rioting on Britains streets before the year is out, and they know it.

Oh, have you ever read this? One! Hundred! Demons! by Lynda Barry is an autobiographical comic strip book. I cannot explain how much I love this. I’ve read it at least one! hundred! times! I love the stories – they are so… human. I love the way she conveys her childhood alienation by drawing herself covered in green spots. I love the poignancy and the gentle humour,

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And I love the subtle way Barry shows, rather than tells

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My favourite strip is about the way adults sometimes deny and dismiss the feelings of children, leading to guilt and confusion. As a girl, Barry had frequently got into trouble for expressing her feelings of hatred.

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And lastly there’s this video, which I originally saw posted onto Twitter by The Bloggess. Heartwarming stuff.

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Nine Months

In two days time I will be nine months sober.

Only I’m not really meant to say that. Because it’s only supposed to be “a day at a time.” As in there is no tomorrow in sobriety; only ever today, the moment, the here and now. What is it my old sponsor once said to me? “One foot in the past, one foot in the future, and pissing all over the present.” Recovery speak is full of little soundbites like that – annoying really.

“Are you better now?” people like to ask. And generally I smile and say yes because nobody really wants to hear a great long monologue about how I will always be an alcoholic, that the illness hasn’t gone away simply because I’ve stopped drinking for a few months, and that sometimes I feel as though I’m wading through treacle and have made no bloody progress whatsoever. Only for me to backtrack and stress that yes yes of course I know that isn’t really true and besides, it doesn’t matter, because these things can only be taken a day at a time anyway you know.

A friend of mine who moved away, and who, incidentally, was also the friend who drove me to the train station with all my bags when I first went to rehab, came back to the area to visit this weekend. An e-mail had been doing the rounds informing everybody that she would be down at the local village pub for the quiz on Saturday night if people wanted to catch up. And so I went – despite me and pubs having a fairly chequered history – because I wanted to catch up. It felt important.

I think it may also be worth mentioning at this point that for such a wordy person I actually know very little and so am extremely rubbish at pub quizzes. I’m a bit like having a small child on your team in that I so rarely know the answers I feel either compelled to make rash, stupid guesses, or if I do know the answer I get so excited I can’t help shouting it out for the whole pub to hear. Occasionally, my two methods combine embarrassingly:

Quiz master: What bird hunts by sense of smell only?

Me: A PIGEON!

I don’t often go into pubs anymore. Because pubs are where people go to drink generally, and I don’t drink (“keep going to the barbers and sooner or later you’re going to get a hair cut.”) But life goes on. Old friends that once drove you, terrified, to the train station come to visit, and catching up feels important.

Anyway the quiz ended, and suddenly deprived of a focus upon which to concentrate my energies, I looked around and realised I knew barely anybody in the place. And that’s when it hit me suddenly that this was exactly the sort of situation that would usually send me barrelling for the bar. Awkward? Shy? Self conscious? Alcohol was the magic medecine could cure them all. A few glasses of that stuff and no longer would I be reliant solely on my own limited resources. Oh no. King alcohol would prop me up, inspire me with ideas, and radiate warmth and confidence all around the room. Until of course he took over, tipped the floor, and – laughing like a mad thing – yanked out the rug from under my feet.

And so heaving open a low, thickly solid wooden door, I slipped outside into the surprisingly mild night. Lit a cigarette and stood blowing smoke up at the sky; clear, wide, and ever so starry. Across the way to my left, a big open mouth formed by the twisted branches of leant over trees led through to a garden, with its quiet stream running along the bottom and all its many memories of summer; of paddling children, toy boat races, and home made fruit jam. All still. All dark. The whining jig of an accordian, made muffled through stone walls, the only sound to be heard.

Back inside I saw my friend chatting in the crowded side kitchen amongst huge vats of steaming soup and those still waiting with empty bowls. She spotted me and smiled warmly, knowingly.

“I can take you home if you like. It’ll only take a couple of minutes and I can come straight back, it’s no problem.”

I smiled back, relieved. “Yes,” I said. “Please.”

Posted in Alcoholism and addiction | 5 Comments

5 Reasons Why Being Single Is Better For Women

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking this is going to be a cutesy piece about onesies and starfishing; about farting at will, freely and loudly, and never ever being compelled to relinquish the remote control.

But you’d be wrong. Not that those things are without their charm, but still, you’d be wrong. Because in actual fact this is a post about freedom; about the freedom to live in accordance with ones values, and about the very real and ongoing pursuit of fulfillment and happiness.

In the 1980′s, Pat Robertson, a US republican presidential candidate, once famously wrote that feminism was a movement which encouraged women to “leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” Funny words from a frightened man. But it is true, I think, that the legal right and practical opportunities to leave unsatisfactory marriages is one of the greatest things feminism has given Western women. No longer fated to spend our lives trapped and dependant in an often stifling and sometimes abusive and coercive institution, we are freer than we have ever been. Nevertheless there is still a way to go.

As a heterosexual woman of thirty eight years old, I have lived without a male partner for five full years now and I can honestly say with no reservations whatsoever, that my quality of life has improved as a result. Some reasons for which I give here, in a list, because everyone likes a list:

1. I am not ever forced to set aside, disregard, or in any way compromise my own values for the sake of… well, a man.

The other day I read this article on a prominent parenting website. An anonymous female blogger had discovered that her husband was secretly using pornography and chatting to sex workers online, despite him knowing this would upset her greatly. After time spent talking things through, she had made the decision to forgive him and continue in her marriage.

And yet, she was not comfortable. Unable to shake the feelings of anger and betrayal, she posted to ask readers their thoughts. Had she done the right thing? The majority of responses were predictable and depressing enough, with urges to try to “understand” him mixed in with the insistence that all men used pornography, and that there was nothing women could do other than to accept it or be manless.

Which is rubbish. Not all men use pornography (there are many with more humanity) but as a single woman it’s very easy for me to choose manless over porn addled wankers. I am only too grateful to not have to be in the position of needing to decide between leaving someone with whom I have built a life and family, or staying in the newfound knowledge that that someone secretly prizes a few seconds of sexual release over and above the dignity, respect, and safety of women, and therefore by extension, me.

2. I do not have to negotiate the division of labour with someone who has been socially conditioned all their lives to believe that certain jobs are my responsibility really.

I think it might have been Julie Bindel who once said the practical application of feminist principles were a nightmare for heterosexual women. She was right. We are attracted to men, we form relationships with them, and before we know it, we are in conflict. We may well be in love with fundamentally decent men, who support and share our views on equality, who know intellectually that simply having a vagina does not make us more inherently suited to pushing a hoover around, working part time, or remembering everyones birthdays. But an entire lifetimes worth of social conditioning and unchallenged privilege is not easily undone, and negotiations, in my experience, often become protracted.

And do you know what? I just can’t be arsed. I don’t want to have to spend time and emotional energy persuading someone who is supposed to love and respect me to recognise the equal validity of my needs and time and ambitions. I’d just… rather be doing something else. Like practicing witchcraft. Not really.

3. My free time is my own. I get to spend it how I like.

An observation: many women in relationships seem to spend an awful lot of time doing things they don’t much like in order to please their partner. As a single woman I get to say sod that. Call me selfish, but I like to spend my time pursuing my own interests and hobbies.

4. My money is my own. I get to spend it how I like.

Enough said. If I want to spend it all on Marlborough Lights and smoke myself to death, I can.

5. Plus I really do get to starfish in bed, fart at will, and keep the remote control to myself.

Which is not to be sniffed at.

Posted in Dating and other various peeks inside my personal closet, Politics and feminism | 6 Comments

The Sweet Smell of Victory

I feel I’m cheating a little here. This post was actually written and first published in April of 2010 – almost four years ago. So long ago, in fact, I had almost forgotten ever writing it. But re-reading it today made me smile and reminisce, and so I’m re-publishing it now, this story from my life, just because.

When I was a little girl growing up in the early 1980′s I had a best friend and a worst enemy. Her name was Melissa. Melissa and I lived in the same square terraced block of council houses that stood off to the left at the top of our road. In the middle of the square was a small patch of grass and next to that was a slightly bigger patch of asphalt with a hopscotch painted onto it and a line of concrete blocks on which you could jump from one to the other. Our whole town was designed like that. Rows upon rows of these great long roads with square blocks of terraces branching off them at intervals like little goldfish bowls. Almost everyone I knew lived in one.

My favourite possessions in the whole wide world were my Strawberry Shortcake dolls. To this day I can still remember every single word to the song on the advert by heart. Small and plastic with bizarrely coloured hair, each doll came with its own little separate plastic pet and its own individual ‘fragrance.’ My mother says they used to stink the whole upstairs of the house out and that every morning after I’d gone to school she would have to open all the windows to let some air in. But at seven years old they were my pride and joy. I could identify each and every one and match it to it’s correct pet simply by using sense of smell alone.

Melissa and I played together almost every day and yet I don’t remember ever going to her house very much. Her parents – who I can still just vaguely picture – were distant, undemonstrative people who always spoke to her sharply in Swedish whenever I was there, even though I knew that they spoke English most of the time at home. Her mother was a tall, severe looking woman who Melissa swore blind had blue lips under her lipstick, and looking back now I can recall an awkward feeling of never knowing quite where to put myself accompanying the odd occasions I did go inside her unfailingly pristine house to play. The vast majority of my memories instead involve us playing together in the little square onto which our houses faced; endless games of hopscotch and skipping and twirling around and around on the grass looking at the sky, trying to make ourselves dizzy.

Of the two of us Melissa was the most dominant and confident. She had an authoritative air coupled with a vicious streak that would rise up suddenly out of nowhere like a guard dog woken from its slumber. Her nastiness could reduce me to tears in a matter of seconds. Looking back now I suppose that ultimately ours was a friendship of convenience rather than of genuine affection; proximity more than anything drawing us back together time and again. But we did have one essential thing in common: Melissa was as in love with her collection of strawberry shortcake dolls as I was with mine. In fact these dolls became in the end largely symbolic of – and certainly the main focus for – our entire friendship. We were constantly and shamelessly embroiled in a bitter competition over who had the most, the best, and the newest. Indeed the only time I ever really felt as though I had any power – temporarily at least – in our relationship, was when I was the proud possessor of a brand new doll that I knew Melissa coveted. Dangled like carrots and wielded like sticks, we used those poor dolls to control, manipulate, and punish each other mercilessly, the worst punishment of all being a shouted threat of, “That’s it! I’m NEVER going to let you smell my strawberry shortcake dolls EVER again!”

I remember one argument in particular beginning with an announcement from Melissa that from now on she was only ever going to call me Knobbly Knees, and that I was to call her Sylvia. She had recently had a birthday which had enlarged her collection of strawberry shortcake dolls considerably and she was therefore only too aware that I was not in a good bargaining position. I protested feebly – if she got to be called Sylvia I said, then it was only fair that I got to be called Camilla – but no she insisted; it was to be Knobbly Knees or nothing. I promptly burst into tears and began to walk off, shoulders heaving, towards my front door. Melissa stood her ground, hands on her hips in a gesture of mocking defiance. “Fine, go in then. Tell your mum then. I don’t care,” she hissed, before delivering the final knock-out blow, “Anyway, I’m NEVER going to let you smell my strawberry shortcake dolls EVER again!”

I can remember afterwards lying face down on my bed sobbing pitifully into my pillow and feeling utterly overwhelmed by a dark sense of injustice and impotent rage. I wished so hard that I could be brave. I hated myself for crying and running to my mother. Too small to understand that I alone was responsible for my own behaviour and responses, I blamed her for making me run home crying. It was all her fault.

The next day she was being taken out somewhere by her father. I remember pressing my nose up against the cold pane of our living room window, my breath misting up the glass, and watching her leave the house with him, immaculate as always in her best dress though looking oddly miserable for a child who was to be taken on a treat. I saw them walk out of the gap in the square that led to the road and then disappear from view.

My heart was pounding so violently that I felt it might leap out of my throat as I rang Melissas doorbell and heard the sounds inside of her mother coming to answer it. She opened the door and stood there unsmiling. I have absolutely no recollection of what I said to gain access to Melissas room – perhaps I said that I had left something in there, or that she had borrowed something that I needed back – but my next memory is of standing in her bedroom feeling as though I desperately needed to pee. I can remember her room was freakishly tidy with an air of having just recently been hoovered – this in stark contrast to my own which always bore the air of having just recently been ransacked – and that it gave me the creeps. The only things on the floor were her collection of strawberry shortcake dolls, arranged in a perfect circle with their pets neatly in front of them.

I immediately spied her newest ones, the sight seeming to shake me out of the fear that held me immobilized, and cause another emotion entirely to take over. Like a little girl possessed I seized the first doll and buried my nose in its purple hair, sniffing, almost gulping in the synthetic smell of cherries as though my life depended on it. I hurriedly did the same with the next one and the next and the next. Then, satiated, I put them back very carefully as I had found them, making sure to arrange them just so. I walked as calmly as I could down the stairs, called out a goodbye to Melissas mother, and ran out of the house and back the few metres to my own front door as fast as I could, a strange feeling of elation beginning to spread from my grin down and out through my entire body.

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I’m No Heroine: On Feminism and Strength

I have been thinking a lot lately about online identity. As in how we put ourselves across to others through our writing, and the ways in which that can be received and interpreted.

It was a short exchange over Twitter that started me thinking. A #saysomethingnice hashtag was floating around and I had tweeted an online friend to tell her that I thought she was kind and funny, and that I really liked her. She had replied back saying:

“Well then I think you are strong, amazing, defiant and kickass! I am rather envious of you. x”

Which was lovely and made me smile, of course. But perhaps more confusedly than anything because the truth was that I just did not recognise myself in those words at all. Strong? Amazing? Kickass??? No, not me. And then a realisation hit me and I thought, my god, is that really the impression I give of myself with my words? Because honestly, it just isn’t true.

And then I got to thinking of a much wider picture, of how feminists are often regarded as “strong” women; stronger and braver somehow than supposed “other” women. I don’t necessarily think that’s true either, nor do I think the idea particularly empowering – not for anyone. We are all of us just women getting by, having a lot of the same experiences, interpreting and reacting to them in our own way. When you are a woman living in a world that does not value women equally, simply learning to survive and thrive as best you can is brave enough.

Defining ourselves as feminists and writing, however passionately, about feminist principles cannot ever make us impervious to the daily grind of male supremacy. Indeed, I think sometimes it is because we are so affected that we become so inspired. We empathise with – and are angry on behalf of – all women yes, but the anger is generated from within our own selves as a reaction to our own lives and experiences. The personal is political after all.

So if I am enraged by the incessant body fascism depicted in glossy magazines, then please know that this is always at least partly informed by the fact that after birthing and feeding three children, I find my own stretched skin so hard to accept without judgement.

And if you read me railing against street harrassment and shouting about the right of women to go about their business without being subjected to the endless staring, cat-calls and intimidation that occur daily in our public spaces, then understand too that the last time I walked alone down a dark street, I was approached by a strange man whose low muttered obscenities frightened me so much I ran straight out into the road to get away from him and was almost mown down by an on coming car in the process.

Know that feminism for me is neither an abstract concept, nor an academic exercise. I can intellectualise and deconstruct and pick apart patriarchy’s every premise, but I will still suffer the same pains and indignities of having been born female in a mans world along with everyone else. My feminism is born of lived experience. Really, it was the only rational response.

And of course it isn’t just me. In fact I was reading an article by Helen Lewis in the New Statesman recently – the article was about intersectionality, but it was this passage that jumped out at me:

“Here are some of the things I know that the kind of feminists regularly decried for their privilege have had to deal with, in private: eating disorder relapses; rape; the stalking of their children; redundancy; clinical depression; the sectioning of a family member; an anxiety disorder that made every train ride and theatre trip an agony. (Yes, one of those descriptions is me.)”

There are none of us immune to that daily grind. Even those feminists who might be considered some of the most successful, celebrated and widely read. Outspoken, vocal feminists in the public eye. Surely they must be the strongest of the strong? But take a peek below the surface and what you discover are ordinary women who can still struggle right along with everyone else.

And no, I do not mean to imply that being in receipt of privilege does not have a significant bearing on a womans life experiences (from a purely personal perspective I cannot remember the last time I could afford to go to the theatre for a start), and nor do I wish to paint women as hapless victims. Certainly not. My intention is simply to draw focus on our common humanity, our common experience, our common strength, our… commonality.

Because there are no “strong” women as set apart from “weaker” women. Feminism is for everybody. The words I write and the values that I hold true do not make me inherently more powerful than anyone else. And with that I’ll leave you with Ani di Franco who invariably says it better than I ever could…

 

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No Isolated Incident: The Death of Hollie Gazzard

So. Another young British woman has lost her life as a result of domestic abuse.

Hollie Gazzard – described by her family as “a beautiful, happy, and loving girl” who was “full of life” – was stabbed to death by her ex-partner at her place of work, in full view of multiple witnesses, late on Tuesday afternoon.

It was the very public nature of Hollie’s death that ensured she made the national news. People are understandably horrified when forcibly confronted with that level of terror and violence. Right there, on our streets, or depicted on grainy videos filmed from mobile phones, it becomes impossible to turn our faces away. However the vast majority of women who fall victim to fatal incidents of domestic violence are lucky to get just a few paragraphs in the local rag. Why? Because it is all too common, that’s why.

Shockingly, Hollie Gazzard is just one of around a hundred women who will die from domestic abuse this year in the UK alone. An average of two women a week are killed by their current or previous partner in this country; a figure that has remained fairly stable for decades. Domestic abuse is extremely common, with around one in three women experiencing it at some point during their life times. It also tends to be progressive, increasing in severity over time, and – as shown by recent events in Gloucester – it can be deadly. Frighteningly, a woman is most at risk when attempting to leave, and in the first few months after having left, her relationship.

Despite accounting for sixteen percent of all recorded violent crime though, domestic abuse is still vastly under reported. Reasons for this are many and varied, however a fear of not being adequately protected and/or taken seriously by the police still rates high. A common general perception tends to be that police attitudes towards victims of domestic and sexual violence have improved in recent years and, as a former Women’s Aid worker, this is a perception I have tentatively shared.

Which is why I felt such dismay upon reading this article in The Independent; in particular the quotes it contained from a Chief Inspector Neil Smith concerning Hollie Gazzard’s murder. C.I. Smith seemed only too eager to reassure everyone that this was a:

very, very nasty incident” but added: “I would like to reassure members of this community, both residents and local businesses, that this is an isolated incident. These offences don’t happen in Gloucester regularly. This incident was very tragic, however; both victim and suspect knew each other. They were in a previous relationship. That doesn’t lessen this horrific incident but it would be good for us to reassure the local community.”

So the incident was very tragic, but. But, they knew each other. But, they had been in a previous relationship. In this context the disclaimer at the end sounds little more than a hasty add-on, made necessary only by the minimising, dismissive nature of everything that has gone before it. In fact the speech reads simply as a modern day equivalent of the old chestnut, “It’s just a domestic”. According to C.I.Smith this was no random attacker, therefore there is nothing for anyone to concern themselves with. Nothing to see here. Everybody move along and get back to business as usual.

There are no doubt many women who could assure Chief Inspector Smith that offences relating to domestic abuse do indeed happen regularly in Gloucester. They happen on every street in every town in every corner of the land. The brutal murder of Hollie Gazzard is very very far from being an isolated incident. Rather it is the highly visible tip of an enormous iceberg; a small exposed part of a much larger pattern of hate crime that is perpetrated against vast numbers of women on a daily basis. It also comes at a time when funding for domestic violence support services is being slashed to ribbons. Until we acknowledge and begin to take a good look at this bigger picture, there will only ever be many more deaths like Hollie’s.

And most of them, we will never even get to hear about.

 

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David Cameron and The “Moral Mission”

Reading the main news stories this morning, as I do most mornings, I came across this article in The Telegraph concerning a reply written by the prime minister David Cameron to the Archbishop of Westminster’s claims that new welfare reforms were a “disgrace” and were leaving people “in hunger and destitution.”

The first line of Cameron’s reply is interesting. He states that although it was “sometimes said that the Church should not get involved in politics,” he disagreed on the basis that many modern political questions were also moral questions. Well I would certainly agree with the last half of that sentence. And although it is my personal belief that a strict separation of church and state is absolutely necessary for a free and equal society, and that human beings do not need any organised religion to teach them moral values or give them a basic understanding of right from wrong, it is still nontheless true that the opinions of religious leaders can  – for many – hold a great deal of sway when it comes to issues of morality.

Which is why, despite my own atheism, I still view it as very much for the good that an Archbishop such as Vincent Nichols has stepped foward to state the obvious: that in a wealthy country such as the UK, it is morally indefensible that anybody should be left to go hungry. Fairly basic stuff one would have thought.

And yet this is what is happening all around us. As a result of the governments welfare reforms we are seeing the UK’s biggest ever increase in the use of food banks; six percent of doctors now report seeing a patient who has either committed or attempted suicide due to fear of work capability assessments, and 50,000 more children are expected to be plunged into poverty in Scotland alone.

Which is why I found myself reading David Cameron’s rebuttal with increasing disbelief. His language full of perceived, principled righteousness, he talked of being on a “moral mission,” of “doing what was right,” and of “giving new hope” to those currently struggling below the breadline. Stressing the moral soundness of his approach at every opportunity, he denied that anyone genuinely in need would suffer abandonment or hardship under the new reforms.

But the evidence already exists to prove these claims untrue. Listening to Cameron and his apparent ability to simultaneously believe in two completely contradictory ideas, one is reminded of the Orwellian concept of Doublethink. It is irrefutable, for example, that in the year 2014, already poor and vulnerable families are being forced in ever increasing numbers to rely on foodbanks in order to avoid starvation. Our prime minister can’t not know this. And yet he is able to press on with ever more punitive reforms, even claiming that they are a source of new opportunity and hope, seemingly secure in the belief that he is a good and moral person who adheres to “the principle that we have to regard and treat every single person with respect”.

Does he really believe this? Honestly? Could he possibly be so out of touch with reality? Or is the truth that he is simply intent on pushing forward a right-wing ideology come what may? If that is the case, then not only is he waging a war against the most vulnerable members of our society, but he is lying about it.

And my smallest child, despite barely ever having stepped foot inside a church her whole life, does not need any supposed moral authority to tell her just how wicked that truly is.

 

 

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Diary of a Writers Block

Voice 1: You really should write something you know. On your blog.

Voice 2: Mmm, yes you probably should.

Voice 1: I mean you’re confined to the sofa anyway, what with managing to put your back out… folding laundry. I mean for fucks sake, how on earth did that happen? Never mind. The point is, you’re here anyway, not doing anything. So just write something why don’t you.

Voice 3: UM, WERE YOU AWARE THAT IT’S TEN PAST THREE ALREADY AND YOU HAVEN’T WRITTEN A SINGLE THING? WHAT *HAVE* YOU DONE TODAY EXACTLY?

Voice 2: Er, I don’t think you are entirely helping matters much by taking that tone, Voice number 3. Why don’t we read something – perhaps it will inspire us!

Voice 1: Heh. That stuff about David Cameron being a lizard and eating live, sacrificial animals sure was funny. Nice one Mr Brooker… Now what?

Voice 2: I wonder if Charlie Brooker is a secret David Icke fan?

Voice 3: CAN EVERYBODY JUST SHUT UP?! THIS ISN’T GETTING SHIT DONE. YOU THERE! JUST WRITE SOMETHING, DAMMIT!

Voice 1: No you shut up. Why don’t we google, ‘Charlie Brooker loves David Icke’, and see what comes up?

Voice 2: Nooo, let’s google that Owen Jones and find out how old he is. I mean is it just me, or does he look like he would be more at home swotting for his A-levels?…  Huh. How about that. Twenty nine. Well *now* I feel old.

Voice 3: THIRTY EIGHT IS MORE MIDDLE AGED THAN YOU CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE! SOON YOU WILL BE MENOPAUSAL, INVISIBLE, AND YOUR BRAIN WILL ATROPHY ALONG WITH YOUR OVARIES!

Voice 2: Okay, okay, enough now people. We need to concentrate. How about a cup of tea and a cigarette?

Voice 3: I COULD MURDER A GIN AND TONIC.

Voice 1: You’re an alcoholic you dipshit! You don’t drink gin and tonic remember!

Voice 2: Oh please you two – stop! Does everything have to turn into a row? Come on. Let’s just open up a brand new blank page and write whatever comes into our head. Oh, by the way, do you think so and so had her baby yet? You really should give her a call…

Voice 3: YEAH. IN FACT LET’S MAKE A LIST OF ALL THE OTHER MILLIONS OF THINGS YOU SHOULD BE DOING AND AREN’T. ALSO, SNAPCHAT IS STUPID.

Voice 2: But Tinie Tempah is very handsome. Also his lyrics are hilarious. Apparently, he has so many clothes he has to keep them in his Aunts house. Do you think that’s true? Seems a strange thing to make up… Although he’s got loads of money – why doesn’t he just buy himself a bigger wardrobe?

Voice 1: Random.

Voice 3: OH FOR FUCKS SAKE THIS IS THE MOST SELF ABSORBED AND IRRELEVANT BLOG POST EVER.

 

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Internet feminism, call out culture, and cis white tears

So, from the beginning: I am a feminist.

I have always been one, all of my life. I was the daughter of a feminist activist and spent large chunks of my childhood on demos, painting banners, shivering in makeshift benders on Greenham Common, and acting as guinea pig in the women only self defence classes my mother taught. As an adult I went on to become both a paid, and unpaid, advocate in the field of domestic abuse. Feminism for me has never been just an abstract label I choose to stick on myself. This stuff is in my bones and will always be something I am committed to.

So in that sense I consider myself very much a feminist blogger. I realise perhaps not everyone would agree with that assessment; this is also a personal blog and I cover many more subjects besides, but it is infused throughout with feminist flavour. It couldn’t not be when those are the values that I hold dear.

I am also a white woman, a heterosexual woman, a cisgendered woman, an able-bodied woman, a thin woman. Ergo I benefit from a great deal of privilege. I know this to be true. On the other hand I am also a single mother who could well be described as “economically disadvantaged” (for that you can read poor single mother on benefits.) So there are some ways in which I can feel held back and discriminated against too. Either way, my experience of being a woman in this world is my own, and unique to me.

So I have always considered it my responsibility, as a feminist, to educate myself about the experiences of other women too. I do this because it helps me to understand that which I could not otherwise. I do it because I believe feminism has to be as inclusive and representative as possible or what’s the point? I do it because I give a shit. I cannot claim to know, for example, what it might feel like to be a lesbian woman of colour living in an American inner city. No doubt we would suffer much oppression in common by virtue of both being women, but in other ways I imagine living in a patriarchal society to be a very different experience for her. The bottom line is that I have never had to deal with racism or homophobia, therefore I can not truly know what it is like. So I read. I read widely. I seek out the opinions and viewpoints of those who have real, tangible experience of that which I cannot claim to know, and I listen. I listen and learn.

And of course what I generally learn is that even the sharing of many factors in common does not guarantee that any two people will think alike. Obviously. Because every woman’s experience of living in this world is also unique to her. There are wildly differing views running the full length of the feminist spectrum, and this is where things can become complicated, and disagreements inevitable.

I remember well the first time I was ever called out; I was still a child. I had used the word “hysterical.” A close friend of my mother – a woman I desperately looked up to – gently but firmly explained that hysterical had its root in the Greek word hyster, which meant womb. When was the last time I ever heard a man being described as hysterical, she asked. I have never forgotten it, and to this day avoid ever using the word hysterical to describe a woman’s emotional state.

I have been called out more recently on Twitter too. Most notably by a woman who objected to my critique of the 365 feminist selfie project. It was not about being beautiful, but VISIBLE, she argued. I disagreed. I still do. At which point she became extremely hostile and implied I had a vested interest in the continued exclusion of marginalised women from public spaces.

However in this instance I stood my ground. Firstly because, a) She was wrong (my objection to the project had always been that I felt it represented a growing trend towards the dumbing down of feminism, and that selfies – rather than furthering any womans journey towards equality – would only ever serve to trivialise their subjects.) And because, b) She was every bit as white and privileged as I, and being that the post had been widely read and not one other person had voiced the same objection, she really was in no position to be presenting herself as some kind of representative, or speaker on behalf of, more marginalised women.

All that showy, displaced outrage, did however serve to bring into focus a particular problem I have witnessed as arising from call out culture. And that is the desperation of some straight, white feminists to stay out of the firing line and ingratiate themselves with more marginalised online communities, by falling over their own feet in an effort to loudly and publicly demonstrate how intersectional and supposedly right-thinking they are, thus proving themselves as “allies.”

I’ll admit, this makes me uncomfortable. It can so very easily come across as self serving, fear based, approval seeking, and yet still, somehow, oddly superior – none of which suggest any real assumption of equality. I have to say I am personally ambivalent towards the term “ally” anyway. What I want is to stand, work, and relate with other women honestly, as true equals. What I am not is anybody’s saviour, and as such I do not presume that I am needed to help fight battles with which I have little to no personal experience. Does anybody really need my “allyship”? Or would just some simple, genuine respect be better?

By the same token I recently read a post on a fellow feminist bloggers website that had a section entitled:

“Being aware that the last thing the world needs is another white, cis, straight feminist blogger.”

I was interested in what she wrote about her desire to make her posts as inclusive as possible, the difficulties that she sometimes experienced trying to get that right, and how in her earnest attempts to make it so, she could find herself concerned with sounding a little too self consciously “politically correct.” I could relate to it. After all it is not possible for anyone to represent all of the people all of the time. And who would want to presume to do that anyway?

But again, the section title had me feeling a little uncomfortable. The echoes of self abnegation and pity did not sit easily with me. As a feminist who looks to acknowledge and understand the degree of privilege she receives, and who tries to check it on a regular basis, I can, and will, apologise for making mistakes in how I behave and what I say. I can, and will, apologise for causing offence and showing ignorance. But I cannot – and will not – apologise for who I am. The world cannot get enough feminists in my humble opinion. What it needs is more feminists. More and more feminists. Many feminists. We cannot have too many feminists. All kinds of feminists. Let’s inspire more women and girls to become feminists!

And yet I fear the whiff of McCarthyism around internet feminism and call out culture, that seeming drive to root out ideological impurity and hold it up to shame and villification, the vitriolic attacks on other feminists deemed to have said the wrong thing, and the lack of room for simple, civil disagreement, will not inspire them much.

To conclude; the feminist movement, as a reflection of society at large, has a terrible history of suppressing and disregarding women of colour, lesbian and bi-sexual women, transgender women, disabled women and sex workers. Those of us who have not had to deal with those oppressions need to understand that ours has always been the biggest platform and therefore the dominant narrative, and that in order for feminism to grow in strength and relevance this absolutely has to change.

But please. Let’s support that change without turning it into either a noisy, vindictive, self seeking and other woman bashing performance, or by engaging in unnecessary, overly indulgent self flagellation.

Let’s support that change whilst supporting each other, so that we can all come together and finally smash the patriarchy to fucking pieces.

 

 

 

Posted in Politics and feminism | 6 Comments

Postcards from my favourite toilet

So there’s this cafe I like to go to by myself.

Sometimes I go to other cafes with other people, but this one feels like my special place. I can go there and for a precious hour, literally nobody will know where I am. Tucked out of the way in the middle of a grey, poor, and frankly depressed city, it is a little oasis of lovely.

I like it best for its slightly bohemian feel; the wonderfully comfy but rather battered leather sofas, the worn wooden floors, the free wifi. It is always warm, cosy, and full of easy chatter (everyone who frequents the place appears to know the woman who runs it), plus the chai lattes are just gorgeous and my new favourite thing.

The absolute best thing about this cafe though, is that it houses my favourite toilet in the world. Now I am no particular fan of public toilets, but this one is special. No cold, sterile, iffy smelling claustrophobia to be had here – this toilet is clean, warm, airy, and homely. But it’s the walls I really love.

The walls are a beautiful collage. A colourful floor to ceiling of pictures, articles, quotes, jokes, and inspiration. The other day I had an idea to snap some pictures. Yes, I am the sort of person that hangs around in toilets taking photographs. Also that is probably not something you should ever write on the internet.

Anyway, for you, so that you can share in my favourite toilet experience…

Maslow's hierarchy of needs, hand-written onto a piece of A4. I never was too sure about sex being a fundamental, physiological need actually Mr Maslow, but I understand now is not the time to quibble.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, hand-written onto a piece of A4. I never was too sure about sex being a fundamental, physiological need actually Mr Maslow, but I understand now is not the time to quibble.
I read this, and remember just loving it. I've no idea where it comes from, if it's a quote from a book or just something someone made up. But it's so poetic and the image it evokes is so magical. That is a bad photograph though, and difficult to read, so for those of you looking at it and going, "eh?" this is what it says: Mr and Mrs Ivan Morrison think they have found a meteorite. Holding it tight in their hands, they can feel it pulsing. Random, but I like it.
I read this, and remember just loving it. I’ve no idea where it comes from, if it’s a quote from a book or just something someone made up. But it’s so poetic and the image it evokes is so magical. That is a bad photograph though, and difficult to read, so for those of you looking at it and going, “eh?” this is what it says:
Mr and Mrs Ivan Morrison think they have found a meteorite. Holding it tight in their hands, they can feel it pulsing.
Random, but I like it.

 

I am assuming this is a like a list of all the things the artist loves. Again, my apologies for the terrible photo, but you can make out: A satisfying burp, Good morning texts, A smile from you, Student discount, the word "lush", biscuits, long walks, fresh linen, and tan lines. It's a good list.
I am assuming this is a like a list of all the things the artist loves. Again, my apologies for the terrible photo, but you can make out: A satisfying burp, Good morning texts, A smile from you, Student discount, the word “lush”, biscuits, long walks, fresh linen, and tan lines.
It’s a good list.

 

Er... step away from the White Lightning?
Er… step away from the White Lightning?

So I’m thinking “Postcards from my favourite toilet” may have the potential to become a regular feature? Maybe. Although I will need to get better at hanging around in toilets and taking decent photographs.

Hm. Doesn’t matter how many times I say it. That is definitely still not something you should ever write on the internet.

Also, for those of you wondering if I perhaps have far too much time on my hands? The answer to that would be, yes I do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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