nurture? not sure

IMG_20150823_201514I’m often told I don’t look my age. I have to admit I rather enjoy the look of shock that usually appears on people’s faces when I tell them my actual age. It’s usually followed up with “what’s your secret?” Depending on how well I know them and their sense of humour the answer tends to be one or a combination of…

  • Good genes, thanks Mum
  • Stay out of the sun, don’t smoke
  • You should see the state of the portrait in my attic
  • It’s mostly because I act like a child
  • Bathing in the blood of virgins
  • My dress sense never grew up
  • Ritual sacrifice

I don’t really mind being told I look much younger than I am – I generally take it as a compliment, and I am sure it’s meant as one, although I do have some complex feelings over why looking ‘young’ is a good thing and looking ‘old’ must be avoided. That’s probably enough of a subject for a blog all on its own. But anyway, once it’s found out how old I actually am, it’s almost inevitable that a follow up question is coming. I can see it coming. A certain furrow of the brows, a questioning look, a slight tilt of the head. It comes in different forms of course, but the meaning is the same.

“You never think about having children?” or “Aren’t you worried you haven’t had children yet?” or perhaps “haha you must look young because you haven’t had children yet” or my personal favourite is when they don’t even bother with the question and go straight for “don’t worry, lots of women have children when they’re older these days”.  I’ve usually already prepared my answers, again depending on how well I know them and how a joke might work, while they were tilting their head and furrowing their brows…

  • I can’t even keep a plant alive
  • Children are awesome but I like to be able to give them back when I am bored
  • I have no desire to foist my genetic material onto another living being
  • I’d rather have a sausage dog
  • No, but I’ll be a brilliant aunt

Occasionally, people take my answer for some sort of deep seated sadness that I haven’t given my womb any other sort of purpose other than making my life difficult on a monthly basis, and reassure me that “it’s not too late” which leads to more awkwardness as I have to reassure them that no, really, it’s trex vs babyok. I don’t have children, I don’t really want children, I am not sad that I don’t have children, I do like children, I just don’t really want one of my own, and that’s ok and OH LOOK OVER THERE A SQUIRREL and I run away while they aren’t looking. Or fake a text message. Or hide under my desk until they’re gone.

I know I am getting on a bit in terms of producing a new human. I mean, a friend of mine was age-shamed by the nurse when she got pregnant at 34. THIRTY FOUR. I am older than that, and I still think of things in terms of “when I grow up”. I can’t imagine myself ever feeling “old enough” for that sort of responsibility.

I genuinely CAN’T keep plants alive, not even mint, or bamboo, and the thought of being responsible for a whole human? That’s terrifying. Look, when I moved out of the former Mr RDPs house he originally wanted me to keep the cat because he thought the cat loved me more than him. It was a huge relief to me when I couldn’t find somewhere to rent where the cat was welcome and the cat stayed with him. It was a huge relief to him too, as really, he wanted to keep the cat. I kind of wish he’d been up front about that in the first place, as I wanted him to keep the cat too. When it was still undecided I was lying awake at night panicking about how I was going to be responsible for this furry little life. What if he got sick or lost or ran away or abducted by aliens? It would be MY FAULT. How on earth would I keep him safe? How will I live with myself if I can’t?  (It worked out fine in the end and the cat now loves the ex more, in that easy way cats have of transferring their affections to the nearest reliable source of food and head skritches. I visit him occasionally, he looks at me with suspicion then ignores me. This relationship works for both of us. The cat, I mean. Not my ex. Head skritching your ex is definitely crossing some sort of boundary.)

I find having responsibility for my OWN life hard enough work without also having responsibility for the life of something else. So not having plants, pets or human children plant deathsuits me just fine. But no one ever asks me to defend why I don’t have plants or pets. For some reason, asking a woman WHY she doesn’t have children is perfectly fine. And for some reason, my genuine answer, that “I am just not really a nurturing person, actually. I am a bit selfish, and quite chaotic, and I struggle with my own mental health, and most of my energy is spent on taking care of myself, and actually, I am ok with that” is not a good enough answer for many people. People assume that, because I am female, I MUST be a nurturing person with a desire to look after a small human really.

But I am not. I mean, I like to make sure my friends are ok, and I have empathy, and I care about people. But I can’t do it to anyone all the time. I think it’s one of the things that has affected many of my long term relationships; because I just find it really hard work to have responsibility for someone else’s emotional wellbeing. I don’t really like looking after people. Or doing caring nurturing things. Perhaps I am doing myself a disservice, perhaps my friends are reading this thinking oh, shush, you are SO a caring dontwantthemperson. And yes, I am sure I am, but caring is not the same thing as nurturing.

The thing that really pisses me off about this all is this idea that women are “meant” to be nurturing. We’re “meant” to want to care for people, small animals, plants and friends. It’s in our socialisation, in our toys, in the advertising and in the movies; women are the caring, life giving, emotionally supportive gender, and men are the emotionless, self sufficient problem solvers. And when we’re not, it’s questioned. Either we don’t know our minds yet, and we’ll change them, or there’s “still time”, or we “haven’t met the right person yet”. Or perhaps we’re cold and heartless.

Honestly, truly and honestly, how many men get asked repeatedly why they don’t have children, and when saying they don’t want them are pressed for reasons why? How many men ever feel shamed or “wrong” because they don’t want to be the emotional support for someone else, who want to be “selfish” and be on their own? I am willing to bet very few. It’s seen as perfectly ordinary for men to be insular, more selfish and less nurturing. On the flip side – how often are men’s desires when it comes to this ignored? Men who really want children, who really want to parent or give love, who want to nurture? The shaming of men in caring professions like nursing or childcare; or the comments when a dad is with his children that he’s “babysitting” or that it’s “mum’s day off”. (No. he’s PARENTING.)

Well I am not a nurturing person. I don’t want my own children (although I probably will be a fantastic aunt one day) and that’s ok. No one, of any gender, should be made to feel guilty if they are, or aren’t, the nurturing type.

You know that scene in Mad Max Fury Road when [SPOILER] Max saved Furiosa by literally giving her his blood? A lot of feminists (including me) flipped their shit over the scene. Furiosa saved them all by being asskickingly badass and strong; Max saved Furiosa though nurture. It was a juxtaposition so perfect, so stark; and says a lot about how wedded we are to gender roles that it was so powerful – we’re simply not used to seeing them represented like that.

It’s about time we stopped shaming women for not being nurturing enough, and shaming men for wanting to nurture. It helps exactly no one. And please, stop asking women of any age why they don’t have children. Because that’s just fucking weird.

Posted in feminism, Me Me Me, my opinions let me show you them | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

Three Thinks: Sex work, Gender & Feminist Dating

I’m still finding it hard to sit down every single Sunday and write. Last year it was really important to me to do so, because writing here was so tied up with giving up alcohol that I felt if I didn’t write every Sunday I may as well go back to drinking and the two – writing and not drinking – became inextricably linked. Now I know I can happily not drink just by, you know, not drinking.

So Sunday arrives and I either have a completely blank head and that weird sensation of knowing you enjoy something but also feeling like it’s become work and therefore you don’t enjoy it any more even though you do. (I’m not the only person that does that, right? I am sure other people must have, say, got their dream job being paid for what they love to do and then suddenly discovering that once you’re paid to do what you enjoy doing it’s suddenly not fun any more? Having said that I am not being paid to write (yet…) so who knows what would happen if I got a job that paid me for sitting down and writing.) At other times, Sunday arrives and my head is buzzing with so many ideas and thoughts that I can’t catch any of them and just end up letting them go because trying to pick one of those buzzy thoughts out of the air and trap it on paper or screen feels too difficult.

Before I know it, Sunday is almost over and I find ways to justify not writing. Or I’ll start writing, and tell myself I’ll finish it on Monday. Tuesday. Friday. I’ll just write next week. But I know that I am even less motivated to open my laptop on a weeknight than on a Sunday. I don’t want to have to do any thinking after a day at work. That’s why I watch so much CSI. Or If I’m feeling like shouting at the TV, NCIS. (Seriously, how the fuck has DiNozzo not been fired for sexual harassment? He’s a fucking sex pest.)

Despite the overwhelming meh, I still have itchy fingers and it’s not always that I want to write much as need to write (to stop the buzzing. And the guilt.) So this week I am forcing myself to open the laptop and I’m going to try to grab some of the loudest buzzy thoughts and trap them in words to stop them buzzing, and maybe start some conversations, and see what happens…

Sex Work – A thought experiment.

I’ve been involved in a number of debates about sex work recently, which is unsurprising given the amount of press since Amnesty’s announcement that they were consulting over their new policy on human rights for sex workers, and their subsequent declaration that they support decriminalisation. This is a huge and complex issue, that much has been clear over the last week of my enthusiastic internet debating. Argumentative, remember? On a personal level, I know people who’ve been trapped in the sex industry, and desperate to get out, and who’ve subsequently struggled to enter legal work after. I also know people who chose sex work, who love it, who made a lot of money and found a lot of job satisfaction and enjoyment out of that work. Just like any other industry really. Only other industries aren’t illegal, or as (potentially) exploitative. Or ones that are, but aren’t selling sex, and mainly employ men; but we don’t see any rush to criminalise construction.

I don’t come at this from the angle that sex work is inherently wrong. I don’t see the sex Traystrade as necessarily being about a transaction that is inherently based on men buying women’s bodies, although to be fair that’s pretty much how it is right now; and I think it’s vital to point out that #notallsexwork is the same. There are many sex workers out there who are not women and many sex work consumers who are not men. And I don’t buy that in Feminist Utopia there’d be no sex trade. In fact, I rather think that there would very much be a sex trade in Feminist Utopia, because female sexuality would no longer be demonised and women would be as able to want, seek, enjoy or refuse sex as men currently are, and there’d be no stigma over sexuality.

So here’s a thought experiment for you.

Sex work is monetising one’s own body. In order to sell one’s own body for any reason, society has to accept that one has agency and ownership over one’s body.

Free market capitalism relies on workers having no control of the means of production.

Patriarchy relies on women having no ownership of their own bodies.

We live in a capitalist patriarchy and rules, laws and views on sex work will be filtered through that lens.

Allowing women to choose sex work as a profession, or to leave sex work as a profession, requires acknowledging that prostitutes have ownership of the means of production. Literally that women have ownership of their own bodies.

It shouldn’t be a radical viewpoint that women should own their own bodies, but in capitalist patriarchy it’s about as radical as it gets.

Gender – shifting the ‘default’

I read this wonderful article the other day about one individual’s journey of gender exploration. It occurred to me as I was reading that we look at gender all wrong. If you think about it, it makes more sense to have “agender” as a default state, a centre of a spectrum from which other gender expressions fan out; rather than our current idea where people must fit into a binary of either female/feminine or male/masculine and that anything else is a deviation from that. Because I wasn’t sure I could articulate my thoughts about it well, I tried to draw a diagram. It’s by no means perfect, and it’s no gender unicorn.

IMG_20150813_190557

I was trying to show how it would make way more sense to view complete lack of gender as a default, and not a fixed position. As you move through life you might find you move around in the circle loads, like Tyler from the Guardian article. Or you might move around just in one side. Or you might stay at one end. There probably wouldn’t be very many people right in the middle, or at the far ends, and given the freedom to explore gender, and freed from the constraints of cultural pressure to conform to one side or the other, people may well find they experiment and move around more.

Of course it has to be pointed out that ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are entirely socially constructed, so what is at either end of this diagram isn’t even fixed.

But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all understand gender as a spectrum that we could all explore however we wished, without judgement or dismissal?

A feminist dating

It’s my 1 year anniversary of being single (congratulations to me!) and just as I predicted I’ve rather enjoyed it. It’s great to have had time to really pick apart what it is I want out of life, and what it is I’ve been socialised to think I want. I did briefly download Tinder just to see what the fuss was about. I received a bunch of unsolicited dick pics and went on one pretty disastrous date and uninstalled it within a week. I re-activated my long dormant OKCokc1upid account, decided that Me-Four-Years-Ago was a totally different person and de-activated it so I could start a completely new one. In the ‘about me’ section, front and centre, I wrote that I was a feminist. A card carrying, humourless, shrill angry feminist who wrote angry things about feminism on the internet. This is against the advice that we feminists are often given. We’re told to “tone down” our feminism or we’ll frighten people off. We’re to be less angry, or we won’t “find a man”. We’re told “you’re probably single because you’re too feminist”.

But you know what? If I have to compromise my beliefs in order to find a partner, then that partner is not the partner for me. Sure, there’s many people for whom “feminist” is a turn off, but that doesn’t bother me, because I don’t want to date anyone who wouldn’t date a feminist.

I’m not really looking for a relationship though. I like not having to be responsible for someone else’s feelings, and not having anyone else be responsible for mine. I like not having to negotiate my spare time, or share space in my bed (I am a diagonal sleeper). The best relationships I’ve ever had were the ones that started unexpectedly when I wasn’t looking because I was quite ok with the way things were. I generally find that people that really want a relationship, who think they need a relationship to be happy, are those that struggle most with being happy. I reckon that feeling of need puts so much pressure on any new relationship that they can’t live up to what you want. I believe that if you think you need a romantic relationship or a significant other to make you happy, then the last thing you need is a relationship with someone else. You need to make a better relationship with yourself so you are happy alone. Someone else should add to your life, not fix or complete it. If feeling like that makes me undateable and too feminist, then so be it.

I leave you with this passage that MummyDinosaurPirate sent to me many years ago, when I wasn’t in such a good place having been through a nasty break up. It’s been my model for healthier relationships ever since.

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Posted in feminism, my opinions let me show you them | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Birthday

Cardology: The science of analyisng someone's personality based on their birthday cards.

Cardology: The science of analyisng someone’s personality based on their birthday cards.

My birthday this year made me feel profoudly grateful for my wonderful friends – new and old – who sent me cards and gifts, or drew awesome pictures, or sent me messages or sang songs to my voicemail.  It all reminds me that I’m not alone, that people understand me, that people are thinking of me and care. As someone who suffers from anxiety and has struggled with depression in the past that is an incredibly powerful feeling.

I tend to see birthdays as basically an an excuse to take days off work to do absolutely nothing and act ridiculously. Well, ok, I often act ridiculously but birthdays allow you to act ridiculously without the added side-eye that you get when you’re nearly 40 and acting ridiculously on a day to day basis. Birthdays are a free pass for excessive cake eating, lie-ins, duvet fort huddling, staying-up-all-nighting and it’s a great way to get people to play silly games with you.

Unfortunately my birthday fell mid-week this year, and I had to work. This rather cockblocked (cakeblocked?) any hedonistic and/or lazy plans. So I decided to implement the concept of UNICORN Birthdays. A UNICORN Birthday is the birthday that happens on the Saturday before when your Human Birthday falls midweek. I would strongly encourage you all to have your own UNICORN Birthday, because I have to say it was significantly more fun than a Human Birthday.

Here are my recommendations for a successful UNICORN Birthday

1 – Dress appropriately

dresslikeaunicorn

2 – Eat cake until you explode. This cake was the work of Hillman’s Tea Room who I cannot recommend enough. There was so much food that I was still eating the leftovers on my Human Birthday.

IMG_20150731_131307(1)

3 – HAVE ALL THE FUN. I am not even joking, this place opened near my house about 2 weeks ago and it’s quite possibly one of the most exciting things to happen ever. EVER. Seriously. Dinosaur Crazy Golf. DINOSAUR crazy golf. DINOSAUR CRAZY golf. I want to go EVERY DAY.

dinogolf

It turns out I am absolutely terrible at golf, and so are most of my friends. But who cares. DINOSAURS! We were the only group of adults there and were by far the worst players. At one point I got my ball (fnar) stuck under a ledge which meant the only way to play it was to lie on the floor and use my golf club like a snooker cue. At the last hole I managed to hit the ball under a small net, over some water, where it hit a rock and shot halfway up the side of a Spinosaurus. I actually got a bit of a telling off from a staff member who’d assumed I’d tried to hit it *over* the net. I told him that I am highly skilled at being terrible at crazy golf and that should get extra points for being creatively terrible. The member of staff wasn’t convinced.

4 – Stay up past your bedtime. In fact, stay up all night because then Sunday is technically still Saturday and therefore STILL YOUR UNICORN BIRTHDAY and you can carry on dressing appropriately, eating cake and having fun until you collapse of AWESOMENESS. Or fatigue, whichever happens first.

ikkledino

You may think that this looks more like a DINOSAUR Birthday than a UNICORN Birthday, but you would be wrong. A DINOSAUR Birthday is is the birthday that happens on the Saturday after when your Human Birthday falls midweek. Therefore my Dinosaur Birthday is tomorrow…

Posted in Me Me Me, Sugar | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

the apple doesn’t fall very far

Of all the publications and site that covered my infamous tea & consent blog, the weirdest one was the Daily Mail. I didn’t actually end up with a huge amount of traffic coming directly from it; but then it came out several months after it had first gone viral (viralled?) and perhaps by that point everyone was thoroughly sick of it. I was actually at work when someone emailed me the link, and as I scrolled I felt a weird sense of euphoria mixed with nausea. (Don’t read the comments.) I mean, it was amazing – something I wrote has been picked up by one of the most read papers in the country! But, on the other hand, it’s the Daily Mail. I really dislike the Daily Mail (don’t read the comments). As a non-straight woman, product of a single mother, left wing, cycling feminist – I am not exactly the sort of person who enjoys, or is enjoyed by, the Daily Mail (don’t read the comments). I am the sort of person the Daily Mail hates. I would have thought were I ever to end up in the Daily Mail it would not be for anything good.

I was fine until I scrolled (don’t read the comments) about two thirds of the way down to suddenly be confronted with my BIG FACE and realise that they’d been over to my Twitter and used a picture I’d posted a few weeks before, with the tagline “why yes, I am a massive dork”. (Oh god, don’t read the comments) Even after the experience of going viral I still clearly hadn’t taken on board the sage advice, “be careful what you share publically”. Did you know that posting things on Twitter publicly counts technically as publishing it, and anyone can use your picture as long as they credit Twitter? I kind of did know it, but it had never occurred to me that I’d ever do anything interesting enough for anyone to actually do it to me. Consider that a lesson learned. Although, to be fair, it wasn’t a bad picture and I *am* a massive dork.

(I read the comments.)

That same day I received an email from Mummy DinoPirate with the subject “the apple doesn’t fall very far”. She had thoroughly enjoyed living vicariously through me during the period of my blog going viral, messaging me every day for an update on my visitor and view numbers, collecting and tallying all the publications that shared it, making a list of all the languages it was translated into, and generally being all proud. It wasn’t until the Daily Mail article however that she remembered her brief brush with fame, and sent me the story of when she ‘went viral’ before such a thing even existed. Yes, young padawans, there was a time when there were no home computers or email or internet, and computers were basically the size of dinosaurs. Although, interestingly, plenty of female computer pioneers.

And so, in MummyDinoPirate’s own words, this is what it was like to ‘go viral’ in 1964. And perhaps a glimpse into where my writing style comes from.

“I don’t know if I ever told you this story – but with the Daily Mail thing today, it brought it back and I was struck by the parallels and also how much ‘going viral’ has changed.

When I was 13, at boarding school, I was incensed by reports in the paper (which I perceived as) attacking young people – something like “YOUNG PEOPLE HAVE NO RESPECT – LOOK HOW THEY VANDALISE PHONE BOXES” was the trigger for me. (This was pre-Dr Who days, I am sure the advent of Dr Who brought about a great change in young people’s attitudes to phone boxes)

I was all about helping old ladies and doing voluntary service in the local mental hospital. Ok, ok, it was to get out having to play sport on Saturday, not really altruistic, but I still felt outraged by this generalisation of young people.

So I wrote a letter – I’d love to say it was the Daily Fail, to give our stories greater congruency, but alas, I fear it was the Daily Express. (Just as bad). The letter was, obviously, along the lines of #notallyoungpeople but was penned (literally, as this was the days before computers) before the advent of such a useful tool as a hashtag.

The letter was published.

I was so excited and happy to see my name in print and my complaint made public in the National Press.

UNTIL the next day. In those days a postage stamp cost 3d (old money) and a letter posted today would arrive at its destination the next day. I was called to the Headmistress’s Office, where she was standing, with a face of thunder, surrounded by five Royal Mail sacks, stuffed with letters. All in response to this bloody letter I had written.

When we talk now about “don’t read the comments” I am taken vividly back to that time when I lost the next six months of my life. She made me not only read all of those letters, but forced me to reply to each and every one. And may I remind you, this was not only pre-computer, but also pre-biro, and yes, even pre-fountain pen so I am actually surprised that my fingers do not still bear the stains of Quink from my ink-pen which I had to dip into the inkwell in my desk.

As far as I remember, the letters were mostly very sweet / sympathetic / encouraging – they felt sad that a 13 year old felt moved to have to stand her ground against an evil world! Some were obviously patronising. I think there were only a very few negative ones, but I can’t remember much about them – along the lines of young people should be seen and not heard and shouldn’t be given space in the newspaper. I think it had such a strong reaction because generally speaking in those days children did not write letters to newspapers.

I do remember that the next day at the top of the Letters column the headline, in bold, was “Cheer up Amanda” and there were about four letters in response. I was allowed to see that, but after that the school banned me from reading the newspaper – they didn’t want to encourage press interest in the school, so they didn’t want me to engage further!

Going viral in 1964 was a very different experience from yours.”

Posted in Me Me Me | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Feminist Fatigue

atentdeadYou may have noticed that blogday has been missing for a couple of weeks. I have no excuse for this – I wasn’t moving house (thank goodness – I’ve already done that 5 times since starting this blog) or on holiday or ill or anything special at all.  Well, I had a few exams and was prioritising revision, but if I am brutally honest with myself the revision was a blessed excuse not to write.

I didn’t write because…I had nothing to say.

Not that there wasn’t anything going on in the world that I could have written about, or that nothing made me angry, or that nothing happened, or either that I didn’t have any ideas to write about. I just couldn’t get my brain in the right space to sit down and write. It all felt too huge, too complicated, too pointless, too much of a struggle. With my mental health history, this sort of thing would normally be a bit of a red flag for me; but it didn’t feel like a bleakening, not in the way I was used to.

When I started this blog it was for very personal reasons. It was to track my progress of giving up drinking for a year, and to get myself used to writing. Most weeks I wrote about my life, baking disasters, my past, what had happened in that week. As the giving up drinking progressed and became easier, and I became more confident a writer, I started to diverge and write about topics more important to me; feminism, health, body shaming, objectification, street harassment. My readership started to pick up, people told me they liked my writing, and my writing became increasingly political. I started taking risks with my writing.

Then I made a throwaway remark about consenting to a cup of tea once meaning you don’t want cups of tea forever and suddenly real people who weren’t related to me or sharing a flat with me started reading my blog, writing to me, sharing my blog and at some point along the way I felt like I had to keep writing about important things. I had to Be A Voice. None of these fabulous new readers want to know about my love life or how horrible I am at cooking, do they? So each week I felt more and more pressure to keep writing about feminist issues, railing against the kyriarchy (it’s like the patriarchy, but it recognises the intersectional nature of privilege so it can be more useful, but it’s less well known so if you use it people tend to look at  you funny) which is great, because I love getting up a good righteous anger and having a good solid rant, and hope that at the very least one person will read it and be inspired, or will change their mind about something, or will think about something in a new way.

But for the last two weeks, Sunday has arrived and…I got nothing. Nothing other than an overwhelming sense of oh fuck it. What’s the point. It’s all too much. There’s too much wrong with this world. With this society. Gender essentialism, binary obsessions, pink and blue, institutional sexism, sexual hypocrisy, violence…it goes on.

misandrywwThere’s a running joke that feminists hate fun and have no sense of humour and are just trying to ruin things for everyone else. That we’re all miserable angry harpies getting annoyed all the time about little things. And you know, sometimes it really does feel like that. Because there are just so many fucking little things that people think are ok but they bloody well AREN’T. All these ‘little things’ we’re getting so annoyed about are cultural markers; signposts of a culture which thinks ‘man’ is default and ‘women’ is a special need and that it’s ok to constantly turn these signposts to point in different directions. On different planets. And it’s so much easier to win those small battles too. Getting a sexist sign changed in a shop, getting a company to withdraw offensive clothing. The small battles are winnable, and each small battle sends a message back up the kyriarchy chain that actually this shit is NOT insignificant and up with it we will not put.

These small shitty things, these microaggressions, they don’t happen in a vacuum. All those tiny little battles fought on a daily basis by fucked off feminists (of any gender) happen in a wider context of a society that blithely thinks that they are ok in the first place. Where adverts can go through god knows how many stages of proofing and copy before someone says uh, guys? This isn’t ok. Where a team of scientists can land a robot on a meteor and at no point does anyone think to say mate, maybe change your shirt before you go on TV because it might look kinda bad. The little battles are a fundamental part of the war – and let’s be blunt about this – feminists are in war against the kyriarchy. We want to smash it. To smithereens. (Note for those that struggle with nuance: neither kyriarchy nor patriarchy = men. Feminists are not warring against men. We’re actually, generally speaking, on the side of men too and believe that smashing kyriarchy/patriarchy will make things an awful lot better for men too).

The trouble with being at war, with fighting all these daily battles, with seeing this shit all around us all the time, every day, is that you inevitably get battle fatigue. It just all seems too much sometimes. It feels, well hopeless. You wonder what you can achieve when Nope-Spacethere’s just so damn much to fix in the first place. Even something really small can make you throw your hands up in the air and go NOPE CAN’T EVEN. For me, it was a trip to Sainsbury’s. Sure, they’ve taken away the “girls” and “boys” signs on their clothing aisle, but they still have two aisles of clothes and one is all white and pink and frilly and the other is all blue and robots and Dinosaurs and Marvel. You don’t need an arrow with the word “boys” on it to get that message. Then I looked at the birthday cards and there was one about ‘things all women understand’ and went on to make weak jokes about shoes and chocolate and shopping because OH LOL WOMEN AND THEIR SHOES AND THEIR CHOCOLATE AND THEIR SHOPPING AMIRITE.

And the thing is I never even noticed it at one point. I was able to turn on the telly and watch a TV show or a film without going OH FOR THE LOVE OF FLYING MONKEYS FUCK OFF.  There was a time when adverts didn’t make me want to throw all televisions off a cliff or set fire to EVERYTHING. I’ve heard the same from other feminists; that it’s like someone’s turned a light on when you didn’t even realise it was too dark to see, and now the light is on you can see EVERYTHING and you can’t turn the fucking thing off. Or, as a fellow feminist put it recently:

“I’m so fed up of noticing everything that’s wrong with this fucked up world. I really wish sometimes that I could go back to thinking things were basically okay. It feels like everything is covered with broken glass and the broken glass was always there but I somehow never noticed all the blood everywhere. Now all I see is the broken glass and pain. And I know I should feel all, “Rawr, must change world for better!” rather than wanting to stick my head in the sand, but for the moment I barely have the spoons for a badly-needed shower, let alone changing the world.”

I am quite sure that there are people reading that right now and nodding and going yup. And not just those of us on the front lines of the battle for gender equality either.  Political activists, disability rights campaigners, campaigners for racial equality; anyone engaged in challenging the established societal order and trying to make people think actually this shit is not ok will understand that occasionally overwhelming waves of despair and ennui will crash over us and make us wish for a time when we were going through life with the political equivalent of closing our eyes and sticking our fingers in our ears and going LA LA LA CAN’T HEAR YOU.

There’s no cure for Feminist Fatigue, but the good news is it’s not a terminal diagnosis. All you need to cure a bad bout of it is a radical act – that of self care. Turn off the TV. Shut down the self-care ALourdeinternet for a day. Treat yourself to a bath or ice cream or a run or do your nails or ride a bike or listen to your favourite album or read a book. (Or leave your blog alone for a week or two…) For a little while, put yourself first and just do whatever makes you happy. And know that you are allowed to put yourself first. In a culture where women are taught from a young age that women should be caring and kind and nurturing and put others first, even the act of taking a break and putting yourself first is revolutionary. So in a way, taking a break and taking some time out from feminism could be considered a feminist act in of itself. No one can win a war when battle weary.

So having given that advice to my feminist sister-at-arms to take a break, I took my own advice and took my own. We all need some time out from time to time, and that’s ok. Let the other feminists hold the fort until you feel ready take the line again, and smash that kyriarchy.

Posted in feminism, Me Me Me | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

Civilly Disobedient

dino poster sign austerityThis Saturday I joined hundreds of thousands of others in protesting against the UK government’s harsh, illogical, unfair and ideologically driven austerity policies.

It wasn’t my first protest; although I have an anxiety disorder and struggle with large crowds, and a medical issue that means it is painful to walk for long distances I feel some things are important enough to be present for. This was one of those occasions.

Contrary to what you might have read in various right leaning news publications (many of which are coincidentally owned by the government friendly Murdoch empire), yesterday’s protest was peaceful. Incredibly peaceful. I’ve been told that the Met police reported no arrests at all. There were people from all backgrounds, ages, beliefs, abilities. There were tiny babies in arms, in buggies, children in buggies, elderly people, people with mobility issues, mental health difficulties, people using wheelchairs, students, fire fighters, political parties. I was rather excited to meet a group of deaf BSL speakers and get in some sneaky practice for my exam on Monday. SO many different groups were represented – but ALL had in common that they have had enough of austerity and want a fair alternative, and wanted to government to hear that message.

On arrival at Westminster there was a festival atmosphere –people picnicking in the street, playing music, having impromptu dance parties while pink and orange flares operated as smoke machines. Children were playing safely and happily in roads that would normally be glutted with speeding cars and HGVs.

protest - police pensions

Source: Facebook

The protest was lightly policed – nothing like the heavy handed and reactionary policing seen in Walthamstow when local residents arranged a counter protest to the EDL turning up unwanted in the borough. I barely saw a police officer until we reached Parliament Square, and those were friendly & helpful. I even saw a few enjoying the music of the impromptu dance party at one point. There was no agitation, no kettling. In fact the largest number of police were guarding monuments to make sure people didn’t draw on them.

There were a few moments that unsettled me. One was passing a large banner for Class War. It was surrounded by protesters wearing entirely black, with masks obscuring their faces, sunglasses obscuring their eyes. They stood in almost military postures; legs planted wide, arms crossed, surveying the crowd from above. Far from being of the people, for the people; they looked more like riot police. Perhaps this image is deliberate, but it felt at odds with the general feel of the rest of the protest, where the vast majority did not march with face coverings. The second was when a group of people were dancing near Parliament Square, when a masked man came up and set fire to a pile of placards. Everyone around him moved away, about 50 photographers moved in. It was a sad moment; and we knew even at that point that this photo would be spun somehow to represent the protest, when this was far from the truth. Within hours certain papers were reporting this incident of one stupid and irresponsible man lighting a small fire as ‘protesters’ were ‘setting bonfires’

I have never been involved in any trouble on previous protests. I am a peaceful protester, and always have been. I chose to show my face as someone standing up for what I believe in. I march the agreed route, stay in the agreed area, don’t shout at the police – they’re just doing their job and chances are a fair number of them agree with the larger aims of the protest.  I’ve been one of those people frustrated at a minority of people who appear to be causing damage to property and giving other protesters a bad name. But I also have some acquaintances (who shall of course all remain entirely anonymous) who do get involved with more direct activism of what might be called ‘damaging’. More shouting, going ‘off route’, getting in people’s faces, beating up fascists. And yes, covering their faces.

I’ve always been an advocate of peaceful protest. Tutting at people making ‘the rest of us look bad’ or ‘distracting from the message with violence’. Frustrated at people turning legitimate protest into an opportunity to have a rumble or smash a window. But in the lead up to this protest, and on the day itself I  had some very interesting conversations with others over these two approaches to protest, and I’ve found myself realising that the situation isn’t as simple as peaceful vs antagonistic, where the peaceful protesters are ‘good’ and ‘right’ and the antagonistic ones are ‘bad’ and ‘disruptive.

History tells a story of two sides to every political protest; hindsight suggests that no one remembers the peaceful protesters. The much reviled poll tax was repealed – we remember the Poll Tax Riots. There were peaceful protests too – but which type contributed to the policy being repealed? The conservative Suffragists hated the militant Suffragettes – who adopted their name from a slur thrown at them. But who do we remember as being instrumental in getting the vote? Nelson Mandela started campaigning against Apartheid on a platform of peace, but became militarised after coming to the conclusion that peace wasn’t working, and that violence needed to be met with violence. Gandhi maintained that protests should always be peaceful – but he was still arrested and others were violent in his cause, and it’s hard to say whether it was the peaceful approach or the violence that led to change.

Do the ends justify the means? Would the Suffragists have eventually got votes for women using a peaceful campaigns? Would Apartheid have been brought to an end purely by peaceful protest and political sanctions? I reckon you could probably put 5 historians in a room and they’d come out with 10 different answers. But it can’t be argued that change happened – peaceful or otherwise.

protest - child

Source: Facebook

The media takes a huge part in this; peaceful protests are easy to ignore in the media and sometimes protests only end up getting wider media coverage *because* they turn violent, or because property is damaged. Peaceful protests can be ignored, covered up and dismissed by the media and the government.  Antagonistic protest gets media coverage; front pages, breaking news, debate. What’s frustrating for activists – peaceful and antagonistic alike – is when all the media care about is the one idiot setting a small fire. What works best is when the protest gets picked up by the media and the cause is highlighted, debated, brought out to the wider public. If that doesn’t happen by peaceful means, I can see why resorting to less legal methods to highlight the issues might be desirable. You could make the argument that if the press bothered to highlight large peaceful protests and rasie the issues, there’d be no need for antagonism at all.

Some would argue that those who are violent are merely reacting in kind. This is easy to see in the case of those who are involved in violent retaliation against violent racist groups – the argument is that if violence is to be used by the racists, then violence should be the reply. Some might argue that as our government are committing violence against the citizens of the UK that violence is an appropriate response. I am not sure I agree that violence is necessarily the only response to violence; but I can see the logic in the argument even while I disagree with the method, and of course we come back around again to asking was it the peaceful retaliation that made the difference in the first place, or the violence? It’s hard to ask these questions without being seen to condone violent actions, which I do not want to do. Of course, the reasons for a protest turning violent can vary greatly; the media narrative is often around violent protesters getting out of hand (like they muppet setting fire to banners. Why set fire to banners that support our cause? Utterly pointless). But peaceful protests have turned violent because ordinary people have been subject to a massive police overreaction, or because of state agitators sent in on purpose to cause trouble to devalue the point of the protesters.

As for covering faces – the vast majorty of people did not cover their faces. But I did see a fair number of peaceful law abiding people with face coverings. In these days of increased surveillance where even people attending a music festival with no particular reputation for troubles protest the  northare having their faces scanned, when some clubs insist on passport ID for entrance, where the government want to have rights to listen to our phone calls, read our emails, know everything about our private electronic lives, is it any wonder that many people feel that they need to hide their faces? I’ve heard people use the line that ‘people that have nothing to hide don’t need to hide their faces’ but that’s a poor line to use for the continued slow erosion of people’s liberties. While I may not hide mine, I am fully behind the choice of others to hide theirs, whatever their reasons may be.

When it comes to law breaking – not all law breaking is equal. I am fully behind some acts of civil disobedience. The impromptu dance party in Parliament Square is my kind of civil disobedience. No one is hurt, no property is damaged, people smile and some laws of questionable efficacy are mildly flouted (and it was FUN.) Minor acts of civil disobedience that cause no damage and do no harm to others are a sort of protest I can get behind – but they are often policed heavy handedly, resulting in arrests for people doing little to deserve it.  And there’s my issue. I am scared of getting arrested, and how it might impact my job. I am scared of being kettled because I worry how I’d handle it because of my anxiety. I am scared of getting caught up in something bigger than I can manage.

But does that mean I can’t also appreciate that those people who get more involved in active civil disobedience, even approaching damage or property, might actually in the long run be achieving something? Does my habit of being relatively law abiding mean I must condemn those who are protesting in a different way? Or do I need to recognise that, as history appears to show, that peaceful protest and antagonistic protest are two sides of the same coin? The agitators need the peaceful protesters to show that the concerns are legitimate. The peaceful protesters need the agitators to raise the profile of those concerns in the first place.

Does peaceful protest work? Maybe. Does antagonist protest work? Maybe. Can one be effective without the other? I am not sure. But I’ve certainly found myself shifting stance of late, from thinking that antagonist protest is never acceptable to acknowledging while it is not right for me personally, I think that perhaps it’s important that there are people out there prepared to take more direct action to raise awareness of a cause. Do they do it in my name? No. Do I ultimately benefit? Perhaps.

I will always condemn meaningless violence – but is there a place in protest for meaningful violence, for meaningful antagonistic civil disobedience, when the media and government won’t listen to peaceful means? I don’t have any answers, but I am certainly asking more questions about it than I would have done a few weeks ago.

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“I wish we talked more about…” Part 2: Periods

periods2Part 1 – women and sex

A while back one of my fellow humourless killjoy feminist friends came up with the idea of a list of “Things we wished people spoke more openly about”.

The conversation that ensued lead to several revelations amongst the group and numerous exclamations of “I am SO glad we’re talking about this” and “OMG I thought this was just me” and “why don’t we talk about this stuff? This is GREAT.”

So this is part two of my ongoing but irregular series – “Things we wish were talked about more openly.”

Just like last time, I am going to add a lengthy content warning, mainly for the benefit of my family who might not want to read about my intimate shizzle.

This blog, and indeed probably the whole series, will feature talk of things like sexual acts, body parts, bodily functions and fluids and other things that often make people (right across the gender spectrum) feel uncomfortable. It’s almost certainly going to make my family feel uncomfortable, so if you’re related to me, you might want to stop right here.

I am going to say, straight up, that a lot of the things that are likely to come up are things that I personally find really difficult to talk about. I spent a lot of time hating my body and not really wanting to look at it, feeling awkward and anxious about sexual acts, being ashamed and scared of things my body did and generally feeling unable to talk about it. So just as you might be leaving your comfort zone to read this, I am going out of my comfort zone to write it. So we’re on this journey together.

And so…

“I wish we spoke more openly about…

Menstruation and PMT”

I recall that my school education session on periods was woefully inadequate. It left us all with the impressions that:

  • If you have sex, you will get pregnant. So don’t.
  • When you are on your period you are gross KEEP IT A SECRET AT ALL COSTS
  • Periods are gross and icky. DON’T TALK TO BOYS ABOUT THEM
  • It’s just a few tablespoons of blood (LIES)
  • Vajayjays are dirty. Try not to touch them
  • EEEUUUW

I was never really told what was coming out of me was pretty amazing or marvellous or perfectly ok. It’s taken me decades to be able to unpick all this.

What does get talked about a lot is PMT – but it’s usually framed as a big joke as to why women are in a bad mood or being grouchy. There’s a lot of talk about OH LOL HORMONES BE MAKING GIRLS CRAZY BITCHES but it’s not taken terribly seriously. But PMT symptoms can be really serious, and varied and honestly? They can really really suck. Treating PMT as some ‘bitches be crazy lol’ thing does a great deal of harm to women who are having real physical and mental symptoms. So forgive me if someone makes some bullshit “on the rag lol” joke at me and I imagine ripping your fucking nipples off. It’s easy to be a humourless bitch when you’re not actually being funny.

periodxkcd

But there is no ‘once size fits all’ for PMT – and women experience all sorts of different symptoms. Some lucky ones don’t get any. Personally, I get really mood swingy, teary and grumpy and find it hard to concentrate. I don’t always connect the dots sometimes; I spend 3 days wanting to kill things/other people/myself and crying at fucking adverts and because of my history of mental ill health every time I’m like THE DEPRESSION IS COMING BACK. 3 days later I’m like “oh. Hello womb lining.” I have to pee way more, my IBS flares up. I don’t want to do anything. At all. I don’t even want to write this blog. I had to force myself to sit at this laptop today. My body temperature is higher and I feel hot all the time. Boyfriends haven’t always understood why I don’t want to snuggle when I am on my period. BECAUSE I AM MELTING GET OFF ME. I don’t get cramps – for which I am eternally grateful – but I do get hormonal migraines. Regular as anything, once a month. Full on, someone-is-trying-to-stab-their-way-out-of-my-eye-socket-with-an-icepick migraines. periods1Painkiller resistant, soul destroying, please kill me now migraines. Every period. I’ve been having periods since I was 14. So in theory I’ve been having migraines every month for over 20 years. That’s more than 240 migraines.

Only I haven’t, because (with the agreement of my GP) I run packets of pills together to avoid having periods for several months at a time. This suited me down to the ground for many years, as I still believed all the things I learned at school about periods (refer to the list above) and therefore was really happy to not have gross blood doing gross things euw gross.

A lot of crap is  talked about hormones and what they do (see the ‘boys will be boys‘ rubbish excuse) but that’s sort of the point isn’t it? Hormones are punchlines or excuses and that detracts from being able to talk about them in a meaningful way.

 

It took me many many years to get over the idea that my vagina-during-my-period was gross and untouchable. Vaginas are naturally self cleaning. Period blood is seen as a waste product, like poop or pee – but it’s not remotely the same thing. It’s the uterine lining that a woman’s body has prepared to grow a foetus. If you think about it, that’s probably the period3cleanest thing ever. It has to be – it’s going to grow, nurture and nourish a tiny potential life which hasn’t got its own immune system. It’s…kind of amazing when you think about it. But it also isn’t just blood. There’s all sorts of weird stuff coming out of there. Weird textured stuff. Clots. Weird stringy sticky stuff. I swear I thought I was completely abnormal for YEARS because this ‘couple of tablespoons of blood’ they’d told me about at school bore no relation to this flood of weird Xenomorph-acid-like substance. I thought I was ill or weird. It took a long time before I felt comfortable enough to talk to other women about this and you know what we discovered? We ALL thought our discharge was weird and we all wished we’d just talked about it years ago.

So why don’t we talk about this? When talking about it helps us understand each other better? Helps women feel they are normal and not alone, and helps guys understand what women are going through. It’s such a huge taboo that it has an entire Wikipedia page about it. Why is it such a huge taboo? In these enlightened times, does it need to be a taboo at all?

IfMenHadPeriods-24376Gloria Steinem wrote a rather marvellous essay imaging a world in which Men were the ones that menstruate. Of course, it’s satire, and not entirely serious. But it’s a refrain I’ve heard often. If men had periods, toilets would always have sinks inside the cubicle. Sanitary products would not only be not subject to VAT, they’d be FREE. If men had periods, there’d be allowance in job laws that allowed flexible time off for PMT.  If men had periods, it would be a sign of strength, not of weakness.

It’s been a ‘man’s world’ for a long time, and feminism has been making gains over the last 40 years in leaps and bounds. It may seem like a weird ask, but I would like a next big leap to be for the taboo over talking about periods to die in a fire. It’s not just an issue here in the UK with girls feeling confused and alone and scared/wary of their own bodies – in other countries it has serious ramifications for the education, welfare, safety and wellbeing of women and girls.

We need to be able to talk about menstruation, our own, other women’s, those of women the whole world over, without fear or revulsion or jokes or snarky jokes. Boys and girls both need to learn how normal and natural they are, that they aren’t dirty or weird. Men and women need to learn how to communicate properly about what their bodies do.

Periods are perfectly normal. Let’s talk about them.

 

 

 

 

Posted in feminism, my opinions let me show you them | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments