Post Viral

atentdead

Apologies for the lack of blog day last week. I took a week off, for the first time since starting this blog and mainly on the advice of Mother DinosaurPirate who recognised that perhaps I wasn’t coping with my sudden and unexpected internet exposure entirely as well I was pretending I was.

I can honestly say that the last few weeks of my life have been some of the weirdest and most intense of my life. The online form of performance anxiety I mentioned last week not only failed to dissipate but only grew as my ‘tea’ blog shot its way around the world and I continued to receive an unexpected amount of attention for a blog that (confession time) I’d thrown together after a frustrated flippant comment made to a friend during an online discussion over why people couldn’t grasp  the concept of consent. I nearly didn’t even write that week, and was going to allow myself my first week off ever as so much was going on, but the idea was in my head, and sometimes when I have ideas in my head they sort of tickle until I let them out. So I let the idea out, and that idea put a girdle around the earth in 48 hours.

As crazy as I thought that first week was, it was nothing to the second, when my average views per day shot up to almost 50k and it was picked up by (amongst others) Buzzfeed & Huffpost; and stuff in my personal life –  previously fluctuating at an alarming but manageable level – chose that exact moment to throw all it possibly could at me. For someone with a history of mental ill-health which particularly manifested itself in a complete inability to be able to hear people say nice things about me, or even think positive things about myself, this was kind of hard. I struggled on, as you do, and if anyone asked me how I was I just kind of laughed and went “er, yeah! haha!” and walked off hoping they wouldn’t notice. It actually felt like I was having a sustained low level panic attack which just wouldn’t stop. While I was hugely flattered and touched by the messages I received from people saying that my analogy had helped them acknowledge unresolved trauma in their past it was also somewhat triggering for me and I had to admit that perhaps there are things in my past I thought I’d left there that I need to face up to myself.

SAUSAGE DOG HEDGE YOU GUYS IT'S A HEDGE SHAPED LIKE A SAUSAGE DOG

Sausage Dog Hedge makes everything better.

At the exact same moment the article was posted on Buzzfeed, I read about Terry Pratchett‘s death. Regular readers will know how Pratchett is a formative background to pretty much my entire social life and may understand why it was at this point that the cope ran out. There was no cope left in the cupboard. The cope train reached the end of the line. cope had left the building. Cope was not here right now, please leave a message at the restrained sobbing. I packed up my stuff at my day job (which is, alas, nothing to do with having strong opinions on the internet) and told my manager I was leaving for the day and went and sat in the park, had a bit of a cry and hoped that dogs would come and say hello. Dogs make everything better. Then I went to talk to the sausage dog hedge, which also  makes everything better just by the fact of its existence.

In all the years that I’ve been well, my biggest fear is of falling ill again. Over the last year with my booze experiment panning out so well and with my new found body positivity, while I’ve been proud of myself I’ve also had an unacknowledged sense of that fear of falling ill again growing. That to experience a mental dip now would be failing. How could I start to fall ill again when I’ve worked so hard to be well and to build positivity around me? What would people think? They’d be so terribly disappointed in me.

While most of the Personal Life Stuff was dealable with, as I’ve had, you know, experience of stuff going tits up before, the blog stuff on top gave it an added garnish of WTF. I’ve been through several rounds of therapy in the past for my mental health difficulties and am generally pretty good at analysing what’s going on in my brain and what symptoms I am having and trying to put in sensible strategies around it. But there was no frame of reference for my brain for the viral blog business. No way for my emotions to find a previous pattern or experience on which to base an appropriate response. One minute I would be laughing my head off going THIS IS JUST WEIRD WHAT and the next I’d be terrified that I’d never be able to write anything coherent every again and the entire internet would be terribly disappointed in me.

Of course, none of this is really about other people being disappointed in me. It’s about me being disappointed in me, and blaming myself for feeling down. And that’s how a downward spiral starts. And I’ve been here before, and this time I am not falling for it.

I’ve had a crazy couple of weeks, mentally. Enough to make anyone feel a little battered in the brain department. It’s not weak to say yeah, actually, need a little help and a little time here. It’s not a failure to say yeah, actually, a little worried about myself and my health here.

One of the tricksy things about depression that it tries to make you think that you are a failure; that by the mere dint of having depression you have failed. But really it’s no more a ‘failure’ to have a struggle with your mental health after an intense period of emotional change as it is to have a cold after spending too long out in the rain or sunstroke after spending too much time in the sun or to have really sore muscles after pushing yourself in too long a cycle. In fact, I’d go further than that; as depression can hit anyone at any time. Depression is no more a failure than catching any illness. And the best thing you can do when you are ill – with anything – is to rest, be gentle with yourself, and get help when you need it.

My blog two weeks ago touched many people, and while some of the emails and messages I received were difficult to read most of them also had a sense of hope that they could move on. To those people who reached out, that realised they had things in their past unresolved: it’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok to say you aren’t coping. You haven’t failed, and it’s ok to suddenly find yourself not coping. And as that’s the advice I would give to all of you, I am going to be kind to myself, and take my own advice.

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Tea Myths and Sympathy

I’m going to be upfront about this – I am experiencing an online form of performance anxiety. My blog, up until Monday evening, was bimbling along with an average of perhaps around 13 views per day. I was pretty happy with that to be honest. I’m happy when ONE person reads it.  Since posting the Consent/Tea blog, I’m currently averaging around 30,000 views per day, my twitter hasn’t stopped buzzing and my mum messages me every hour to ask me how many hits my blog has had. (She’s a blogger too, so of course she taught me everything I know.) All week the question has been bouncing around: what the hell are you going to write next Sunday. I usually write about something that’s been on my mind in the week before, but this week the only thing that’s really been on my mind is, well, last week’s blog.

The comments and messages I  have received have been overwhelmingly positive – with people taking the metaphor and extending it in ways that never even occurred to me. My favourites including “If they ask for Earl Grey, and you only have Assam, don’t give them Assam until you’ve checked that’s ok” and “if they ask for soy don’t give them dairy milk and afterwards go HAHA it was really  cow milk all along, gotcha lolz”.

There were two distinct types of feedback that struck me most –  for very different reasons.

Feedback type 1

I received a higher number of questions than I would have liked that asked a variation on a theme of “What if they say they want tea, and you drink tea with them, and later they say they never really wanted the tea and then RUIN YOUR LIFE. This happens a lot!” This, ladies, gentlemen, dinosaurs and others, is a TEA MYTH.

Actually, let’s move away from this tea analogy, because I don’t want anyone to get muddled here. Rape Myths are beliefs about rape which are often widely accepted but wrong and/or distorted which actively prevent genuine justice or appropriate support for victims. There are many rape myths - all very damaging and I think all of them featured at one point or another in the comments section, but none more so than the ‘false rape accusation’ one.

It can be tricky to discuss this particular rape myth – because – and this is important – false accusations of rape are very serious, and they can ruin someone’s life. When I say that false rape accusations are part of a rape myth I am IN NO WAY suggesting that 1 – they don’t happen (they do) or 2 – they don’t matter (they do). The issue is one of equivalence.

To illustrate my point  I am going to use this risk assessment model ‘borrowed’ from a project manager friend of mine.

RA_Myths

This model is often used when establishing what resources an organisation needs to put into a particular aspect of their work, and is a useful way of discussing difficult issues. If something appears in the top right it will need more resource/focus than something that appears in the bottom right. Something in the bottom right should not get more time/attention/money than something in the top right. If it’s in the bottom left then you might want to think about forgetting it entirely.

So, let’s add some badly drawn MSPaint wotsits to this model about the topic in hand.

RA_Myths_edited

The Crown Prosecution Service’s report of 2013 found that in the period of study there were 5651 prosecutions for rape, and 35 prosecutions for making false rape accusation (prosecuted as either ‘perverting the course of justice’ or ‘wasting police time’.) That means for every 1 false rape allegation there were around 160 actual rapes. I don’t call that even remotely equivalent.

False rape accusations are extremely rare, and even those accusations themselves are often complex. Sometimes numbers that make up ‘false rape allegation’ statistics aren’t even, well, false at all.  So to bring up the risks of false allegations in a discussion about consent is not only misleading and disingenuous, it’s downright dangerous.

Feedback type 2

These were harder to read, but infinitely more valuable.

I received a number of messages from people telling me of things that had happened to them in the past, and how they’d blamed themselves, or never quite dealt with the feelings, or never quite been able to move on. They said that my post had made them cry, or laugh, or just feel believed or understood. Some said that they’d used my post to talk to their children about consent. A few said that my post had given them a sense of release from their past, a way of dealing with their past experiences, a sense of understanding that what happened to them wasn’t their fault. One said they wanted to tell me “what a difference you made today”.

To have people say they enjoyed your words, to see them shared over and over and to see people going YES, THIS was bewildering and wonderful and strange. But those messages telling me that I didn’t just write something funny or clever but that my words actually had real impact for people; to know that my brain ramblings have affected people, touched people and even helped them is an extraordinary feeling, and one I will treasure, even if no one ever reads this blog again*.

My life has also been changed by this experience; in that I will never be able to answer the question “fancy a cuppa?” without smirking.

*But I hope they do. 


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Consent: Not actually that complicated

A short one today as my life is currently very complicated and conspiring against my preference to spend all of my days working out what to blog. But do you know what isn’t complicated?

Consent.

It’s been much discussed recently; what with college campuses bringing in Affirmative Consent rules, and with the film of the book that managed to make lack of consent look sexy raking it in at the box office. You may not know this, but in the UK we more or less have something similar to ‘affirmative consent’ already. It’s how Ched Evans was convicted while his co-defendant was not – and is along the lines of whether the defendant had a reasonable belief that the alleged victim consented. From the court documents it appears that while the jury felt that it was reasonable to believe that the victim had consented to intercourse with the co-defendant, it was not reasonable to believe that she’d consented to intercourse with some random dude that turned up halfway through (Evans). The issue in the UK isn’t traditionally in the way it’s dealt with in court, but in the way it has been investigated – new guidance was recently issued to try to improve this.

It seems like every time an article is written about consent, or a move made towards increasing the onus on the initiator of the sex to ensure that the person they are trying to have sex with, you know, actually WANTS to have sex with them, there are a wave of comments and criticisms.

rape-and-consent-590

even the comments in response to this cartoon illustrate the depth of lack of understanding of consent

It seems a lot of people really, REALLY don’t get what ‘consent’  means. From the famous “not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion” to the student that (allegedly) thought he’d surprise his partner with some non consensual BDSM to that fucking song to almost every damn comment on any article by anyone that suggests that yes means yes; it seems people really have a problem understanding that before you have sex with someone, and that’s every time you have sex with them, make sure they want to have sex with you. This goes for men, women, everyone. Whoever you are initiating sexytimes with, just make sure they are actually genuinely up for it. That’s it. It’s not hard. Really.

If you’re still struggling, just imagine instead of initiating sex, you’re making them a cup of tea.

You say “hey, would you like a cup of tea?” and they go “omg fuck yes, I would fucking LOVE a cup of tea! Thank you!*” then you know they want a cup of tea.

If you say “hey, would you like a cup of tea?” and they um and ahh and say, “I’m not really sure…” then you can make them a cup of tea or not, but be aware that they might not drink it, and if they don’t drink it then – this is the important bit –  don’t make them drink it. You can’t blame them for you going to the effort of making the tea on the off-chance they wanted it; you just have to deal with them not drinking it. Just because you made it doesn’t mean you are entitled to watch them drink it.

If they say “No thank you” then don’t make them tea. At all. Don’t make them tea, don’t make them drink tea, don’t get annoyed at them for not wanting tea. They just don’t want tea, ok?

They might say “Yes please, that’s kind of you” and then when the tea arrives they actually don’t want the tea at all. Sure, that’s kind of annoying as you’ve gone to the effort of making the tea, but they remain under no obligation to drink the tea. They did want tea, now they don’t. Sometimes people change their mind in the time it takes to boil that kettle, brew the tea and add the milk. And it’s ok for people to change their mind, and you are still not entitled to watch them drink it even though you went to the trouble of making it.

If they are unconscious, don’t make them tea. Unconscious people don’t want tea and can’t answer the question “do you want tea” because they are unconscious.

Ok, maybe they were conscious when you asked them if they wanted tea, and they said yes, but in the time it took you to boil that kettle, brew the tea and add the milk they are now unconscious. You should just put the tea down, make sure the unconscious person is safe, and  – this is the important bit – don’t make them drink the tea. They said yes then, sure, but unconscious people don’t want tea.

If someone said yes to tea, started drinking it, and then passed out before they’d finished it, don’t keep on pouring it down their throat. Take the tea away and make sure they are safe.  Because unconscious people don’t want tea. Trust me on this.

If someone said “yes” to tea around your  house last saturday, that doesn’t mean that they want you to make them tea all the time. They don’t want you to come around unexpectedly to their place and make them tea and force them to drink it going “BUT YOU WANTED TEA LAST WEEK”, or to wake up to find you pouring tea down their throat going “BUT YOU WANTED TEA LAST NIGHT”.

Do you think this is a stupid analogy? Yes, you all know this already  – of course you wouldn’t force feed someone tea because they said yes to a cup last week. Of COURSE you wouldn’t pour tea down the throat of an unconcious person because they said yes to tea 5 minutes ago when they were conscious. But if you can understand how completely ludicrous it is to force people to have tea when they don’t want tea, and you are able to understand when people don’t want tea, then how hard is it to understand when it comes to sex?

Whether it’s tea or sex, Consent Is Everything.

And on that note, I am going to make myself a cup of tea.

*I actually said this word for word to a friend in the early hours of Sunday morning after a warehouse party. Tea. It’s fucking brilliant.


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difference is not definition – where’s the diversity in our narratives?

A few weeks ago I read an article suggesting that we wouldn’t accept white actors ‘blacking up’ to play black characters, so why would we accept able-bodied actors ‘cripping up’ (their phrase, not mine) to play disabled characters. While I agreed with the general premise of the article the key example used was not ideal and derailed any useful discussion of the points the writer raised. The main example used was Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything”. I have to admit, I haven’t yet seen the movie, but I know enough about it to realise that Redmayne was portraying Hawking as both a young man and an older man, and therefore showing the progression of Hawking’s condition, requiring the actor to play both able-bodied and disabled aspects of Hawking’s life; something that even with the advances of CGI would have been extremely difficult for  an actor with ALS.  It’s a shame that this article didn’t quite pack the punch it could have done purely by dint of chosing a bad example with which to make the point; because there are many other films and TV shows where a disabled actor could have played a role, but it was handed to able-bodied actors because they were more famous, because CGI can do that now, or, well, I don’t know, just because.

I question casting in so many ways when watching film or TV. Why wasn’t the part of Maura in Transparent played by a trans actor? Why were all the dwarves in all of the recent Lord of the Rings movies played by average sized actors shrunk by CGI? Why wasn’t the part of, well, anyone powerful AT ALL in Exodus played by anyone other than a white dude?

The casting of able-boded actors in roles that could reasonably be played by disabled actors, or cisgendered actors in parts that could reasonably be played by transgendered or non-binary actors is another form of whitewashing and it’s not ok.

But I think there’s an even bigger problem here.

Why aren’t there more disabled actors working in films or tv playing, you know, characters? Not disabled characters, not a character with an ‘inspiration’ story arc about dealing  or ‘overcoming’  their disability, just a person, playing a role where that person just also happens to have a disability? Why shouldn’t any disabled actor audition for any part at all and have a fair chance of playing that character, assuming that being partially sighted, or deaf, or a wheelchair user  doesn’t actually affect that character’s storyline in any way shape or form? As Mark Povinelli put it, “I’ve got no problem with Ian McShane playing a dwarf, if I’m allowed to play a lawyer or a doctor or all of the things we seem to be denied so often.”

When Liz Carr was cast in Silent Witness as Forensic Examiner Clarissa Mullery, it felt like a breakthrough moment. As Carr said herself, “What I love about Clarissa is that she’s a disabled person but we don’t base the story on that, she just is. We don’t focus on it, but we also don’t deny it, and I think that’s brilliant.” Clarissa Mullery’s disability has absolutely nothing to do with her narrative, with her motivation, with her personality. Why aren’t there more roles like this out there? I mean, out here in the ‘real’ world disabled people go to work, they eat their lunch, they raise their children, play computer games, eat cake, fart, fall over, make mistakes, tidy the house, stay up late – all of those random little every day things that people do because that’s what people do because, you know, they are people. The question isn’t just why aren’t disabled actors being cast as disabled characters, but why can’t disabled actors be cast as any character?

While I was thinking about this lack of diversity in casting when it comes to disability, it occurred to me that this goes even further than disabled actors playing characters where their disability isn’t part of the narrative; in fact if you are anything at all other than an able-bodied white cisgendered heterosexual male, chances are that the thing that makes you ‘other’ – that differentiates you from that able-bodied white cis gendered heterosexual male – that thing will actually be fundamentally important in your character arc. Able-bodied white cisgendered heterosexual male characters get to be ANYTHING. They have all sorts of different narratives, storylines, motivations, flaws, trials and quirks. But if you are, say an able-bodied white cisgender homosexual man, there’s a high chance that your sexual preference will form some significant part of the narrative or feature as a plot device. If you are an able-bodied white cisgender homosexual woman, then the film will probably dwell on that even more. If you are a disabled black transgender homosexual woman, then, well, that entire movie is probably about how this woman is black and trans and gay and disabled.

It’s almost as if any deviation from the ‘default’ able bodied white cis gendered heterosexual  man  is seen as character or narrative in of itself. This is not the way things should be.

When a movie does manage to escape this idea of a ‘default’, the results can be fantastic. Ripley, for example, was originally conceived as a male character, but when the final draft of Alien was completed she was a woman. There was little difference to the script, to the plot or to her motivation as a result. They didn’t feel the need to throw in any references to PMT or add any sort of sex scene or pregnancy in to make us Get that She was a Woman In Space (at least, not for the first movie. But that’s a whole other blog post…) It didn’t MATTER in Alien that Ripley was a woman because her ‘woman-ness’ wasn’t in any way important to the narrative. Why is this so rare as an example when it worked so damn well? Why is it so rare that the gender, race, ability or sexual preference of a character is so unimportant to the narrative that this is one of the only examples I can think of? A film made 36 years ago?

On some occasions where a non able-bodied white cis gendered heterosexual man has been cast as a character where being  an able-bodied white cis gendered heterosexual man DOESN’T EVEN MATTER there has been, well, let’s politely call it ‘consternation’. When rumours went around that Idris Elba could be the next Bond? CONSTERNATION. But really, does being white matter in any way shape or form to the character of Bond?  Rumours that The Doctor could be played by a woman? CONSTERNATION. And poor Idris Elba can’t get a break because when he was cast as Heimdall? CONSTERNATION. Because people can apparently suspend their disbelief enough to go along with the idea that a semi-immortal alien race were mistaken for Norse deities while travelling interdimesionally using a rainbow bridge; but the idea that one of them might be black is just a step too far. James Bond’s or Heimdall’s ‘whiteness’, The Doctor’s ‘maleness’ – neither of these have any bearing on the character’s narrative or story whatsoever, so why couldn’t Bond be black, or  The Doctor a woman?

Why do we have so many problems even now, 36 year years after Alien demonstrated that gender matters not a whit when it comes to being a badass or selling cinema tickets to awesome movies, in thinking that maybe, just maybe, we can be a little more diverse in how we write characters, how we cast characters?

If we can lose the idea that deviation from an arbitrary ‘default’ is the same thing as narrative, perhaps we can we have more characters who are not defined by their gender or their sexual preference or their disability. Who, like Clarissa Mullery, just are.

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Feminism is…

It can be hard to feminist (if you’ll permit me to usdino for feminisme that word wholly inaccurately as a verb for a minute) especially once you pass the threshold of “wait, we’re not actually in the post-feminist society I was promised in 1997″ and enter the world of “this bullshit is everywhere, I can’t unsee it and everything I used to enjoy seems tainted.” Your friends think you’re too earnest, too sensitive, too…feminist. Random people on the internet think you’re a mouthy shrill bitch who isn’t getting enough good man loving but they wouldn’t want to  give it to you because you’re too fat for them anyway. People at work look at you askance when you tell a colleague that saying “god, MEN, all the same, never ask for directions” is sexist and then they all awkwardly change the subject.

And it’s a battle on two sides –  you’re not just trying to be the good feminist ambassador for rights and equality, you also feel that you’re constantly having to defend feminism itself. I often find myself on the back foot in these sorts of conversations – saying things like “that’s not really what feminists think”, “that’s not what feminism’s aims are”, “that’s not what feminists want” and, of course, “#notallfeminists are like that”. But you can’t really define something by what it isn’t. When you are faced with people challenging your viewpoint retreating into your corner and assuming a defensive position isn’t going to win hearts, change minds or get you a cool winning move. So today,  instead of talking about what feminism isn’t,  instead of saying “this is not my feminism”, I thought I would write about what feminism is and should be – when it’s working at its very best. I asked a few pals, men and women, who self identify as feminists, what words and phrases they associate with the starting words “Feminism is…”. What follows is an edited collection of the ideas we came up with.

feminism is equality

Feminism is about equality

At its very core, feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities and the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. So, if you believe that men and women deserve equal rights and equal treatment, and you say that out loud, then you are a feminist! It really is that simple.

Equality doesn’t mean that women should be better than or in charge of men, and equality doesn’t mean that men should be treated as badly as women.

Feminism is about choice

feminism is choice Jett

Feminism wants women and men to be able to have the freedom to make the same choices; be they big obvious ones like becoming an engineer or an art teacher or a parent or less obvious ones like being able to choose to walk home alone after dark. Obvious ones like a girl being able to choose to do a GSCE in computer programming and a boy to choose home economics and less obvious ones like a girl chosing to dress as Batman and a boy chosing to dress as Elsa.

We’re not talking about the choice to do absolutely anything you want to do without consequences; as I discussed a few weeks ago choice cannot be unlimited, as some choices you make cause harm. But choices shouldn’t ever be limited to gender.

Feminism  is intersectional

Intersectionality is about recognising that people experience different types of oppression which intersect and affect how we experience the world. How we think about feminism and how we advocate for each other must take this into account. To talk about an “oppression olympics” is to miss the point by such a spectacular margin that one can only assume anyone that does is either trolling or wasn’t paying attention.  feminism is intersectionalIntersectionality is particularly important for feminism because white women’s voices have a tendency to be heard over those of other marginalised groups. If we see hashtags like #solidarityisforwhitewomen and go oh hey  now, I’m not like that, waaaahhh #notallfeminists then you know what we’re doing, right? Instead of taking the opportunity to learn and listen we are derailing; forcing the conversation to be about us, and failing to take into account  how different aspects of people’s lives and backgrounds affect their experience of gender based oppression.

Feminism is for men

Anyone can be a feminist (although I think cats struggle with the concept) and as feminism advocates for equality it by definition advocates for everybody. The majority of feminists recognise that pretty much all of the issues that women, men and people who identify outside of the gender feminism is for menbinary face are down to a society with patriarchy built in at it’s very roots.

There is a lot of confusion over what ‘patriarchy’ means and it’s often misunderstood as meaning simply ‘men’, but it’s far more complex.  When someone blames ‘patriarchy’ they are not blaming men. While my personal focus is on empowering women and ending violence and oppression against women, I also believe that dismantling patriarchical ideas of gender expression will have a huge benefit for men too, and that many of the issues men face (for example, in custody issues, suicide and depression rates, minimisation of male rape and domestic violence against men) are products of a society which values  ‘masculinity’ and sees ‘femininity’ as inferior. When women are no longer seen as inherently nurturing (a product of patriarchy) and men as inherently violent (a product of patriarchy) we’ll see change. When women are no longer seen as inherently weak and submissive (a product of patriarchy) and men are no longer seen as inherently strong and dominant (a product of patriarchy) we’ll see change.

Feminism is multifaceted

One accusation often lobbied against feminists like me is that we are focusing on silly unimportant things like page 3 and “compliments and  toilets  and putting women on banknotes when what we SHOULD be doing is campaigning against IMPORTANT things that REALLY affect women like FGM and domestic violence. This demonstrates a lack of awareness of how all of these things are related in a structural system like patriarchy, and it implies that any feminist that is campaigning against, say, street harassment, is incapable of also caring about or campaigning around other issues.

feminism is multifaceted

There are so many aspects of our world which need attention and focus, and no one feminist can campaign against Every. Single. One. That would be exhausting! What we can do however is lend our voices to each other’s campaigns even as we focus on our own. I don’t personally campaign directly around FGM or for the 50/50  parliament but I know people who do and I support them and spread their message, and offer my assistence when they need it, just as they would do for me.

Feminism is global

From the college in Nigeria offering scholarships to the globalgirls affected by Boko Harem, to the projects in India working to improve access to safe bathrooms for women, to the youth empowerment schemes in Burma; movements all around the world are working to improve the future for women and girls.

We’re lucky in the UK to have as much freedom and power as we do – but just because women in one country are better off than women in another isn’t a reason for women to ‘settle’ for being ‘not as badly off’. Feminists therefore will focus their energies on the issues close to them, and to their communities, but this doesn’t stop feminism being, and needing to be, a global movement.

Feminism is courage

feminism is globalWhen women are bombarded with threats and are even killed for standing up for their beliefs  it can be scary – and dangerous –  to keep putting yourself out there and continuing to stand up and shout. For every woman that refuses to be silent, for every woman who won’t ‘just get off the internet’, who won’t ‘just stay at home’, who won’t ‘get back in the kitchen and make a sammich’, who won’t ‘shush now and be a good girl’ there are millions more standing behind them supporting them, holding them up, and millions more unable to use their own voices who rely on those that speak out to make a difference. It takes courage to stand up, courage to keep speaking, and determination to never stop.

Feminism is community

Divide and rule is a known tactic of oppressive systems, and it’s extremely successful within patriarchy. Once you can escape the media-supported idea that other women are your ‘competition’ and that bringing other women down will make bell hooks communityyou feel better, you open yourself to a brave new world of supportive voices. I have met some of the most incredible women on my journey, and we’ve all had similar experiences of having our battles minimised and criticised and denied by people who think we can’t succeed, or who don’t want us to. I can vouch from experience that there’s nothing more powerful than a room full of women going “I get it. This is hard.  But we’re utterly awesome, and we understand, and we can do it. YOU GOT THIS”.

Feminism is honest

truthI will let my friend’s own words speak for this one: “I almost said ‘acknowledgement’ but I think ‘honesty’ is more positive. The recognition of inequality, and the drive to address that to make things better for everyone, rather than to promote women above men. A lot of anti-feminist criticism seems to suggest that we are dishonest about what we want.”

Feminism is being a good parent 

I am not a parent, but I have many friends who are, and they all felt strongly that their men are moreidentities as feminists and parents were inextricably linked. They want to make sure their daughters get all the opportunities they deserve, and aren’t limited by society telling them they must be pretty and sweet. They want to make sure their sons know they can be sensitive, loving, kind and caring. They want their daughters to believe it’s ok for them to be strong and powerful, and for their sons to believe it’s ok to be gentle and quiet. They want their daughters and sons to never fear chosing a pink item over a blue one or vice versa. They want their daughters to feel safe on the streets, and their sons to know why this is their responsibility too.

stevieFathers should be able to take on a loving, caring and nurturing role without it being either questioned or applauded. Mothers should be able to take on an economically supportive role without it being criticised or analysed. The work of being a parent should be recognised as vital, important, difficult and rewarding – regardless of the gender or sex of the person doing the parenting.

Feminism is challenging

Feminism challenges the prevailing ideas within society. It questions the status quo and COMMUNICATIONsays “um, actually, no, this is not ok” and goes about trying to fix that shit.

But feminism also has to challenge itself and feminists must challenge each other in order to develop our own ideas and be better allies. We should challenge each other when our feminism is exclusionary, when it isn’t as intersectional as it should be. We should challenge each other when we perpetuate problematic language . We should challenge each other even when we agree, just to make sure our ideas hold up to scrutiny, and to know how to back up our arguments. Challenge should be about mutual learning and understanding. It is through challenge that we grow.

Feminism is hopeful

Every feminist genuinely believes we are going to one day have a society where we all have equal rights and opportunities. That’s why we keep doing this. Sometimes it seems insurmountable – it feels like the task is just too huge and too complex, and that patriarchy and oppression is so deeply hardwired into our society that even the task of getting people to see it in the first place is too great. But every day we’ll fight on because we believe we’re right, and we believe we have the moral responsibility to keep pushing.

hopeMy hope comes from seeing the young people in my local community and how engaged they are with issues of equality, empowerment, consent and respect. They might get written off as ‘just kids’ – but these young people have a far more sophisticated understanding of social justice, privilege, inequality and equality than I ever did at their age, and they are developing the language to speak out with confidence.

If the young people within my community are in any way representative of the young feminists out there, and I believe they are, then I have no doubt that the future is feminist.

And Feminism Is Awesome.

n.b. Feminism is…about so much more than I’ve been able to cover. If I’ve missed something important to you, let me know in the comments :)

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Paladins and Paradoxes

M&Ms and Doritos are compulsory I believe

“You have to have a motivation – think about it. What’s the source of your hatred?” “PATRIARCHY”

I remember once, when I was quite little, back in nineteen eightymumble, finding a red box with some books inside, with pictures of dragons and monsters. I think there were also some dice, a map and some picture cards. My memory is hazy as it was a long time ago. I don’t remember where the box came from, but it did end up amongst my other games and occasionally I’d take out all the contents and try to understand them. I have a vague memory of asking MummyDinosaurPirate how it was played, but I don’t remember the actual answer, just a vague sense that it was ‘complicated’ and ‘for grown ups’.

Fast forward several decades to last night – I played my first ever actual game of Dungeons and Dragons. It was confusing, but an awful lot of fun. I took pictures and posted them online to the shock of some of my friends. The overall reaction was along the lines of: NO WAY this was your FIRST GAME? WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU DOING as a child? Well, not having many geeky friends, is the answer. I didn’t really have any close friends, having moving moved around a fair bit and changed schools a couple of times, until I was in my late teens. I knew almost no boys at all, going to an all-girls school for the entire duration of my schooling, and up until a chance encounter in my first GCSE English class (for non UK people, you start GCSEs at 14) with a girl who I’d never even spoken to before, pretty much every person I called ‘friend’ thought I was a little weird. I wasn’t entirely sure why, if I am honest, but I really struggled to fit in with most of the girls at my school. I think MummyDinosaurPirate was rather worried at one point that I didn’t seem to have any friends and spent most of my time reading and drawing unicorns.

So when the girl at the next desk and I discovered we were both reading Discworld books and she said “do you want to come to a Discworld fancy dress party in the woods on Friday?” I did. I really did. I went dressed as Nanny Ogg, met this girl’s friends and suddenly for the first time ever had friends that liked the same things as me. I felt for the first time that I was among kindred spirits.  Not only did they not think I was weird for starting a conversation about which colour dragon you’d rather have, they’d enthusiastically join in. We’d go round to each others houses and sit up all night watching Red Dwarf, saying every single line a fraction of a second before the dialogue. We’d go into London in the early hours of the morning and stand in line for hours for Terry Pratchett book signings at Forbidden Planet. I saved up to buy a Star Trek TNG communicator pin badge from there which actually made a sound when you pressed it, then lost it a few weeks later at a party where I’d gone as an “unnamed crew member in a red shirt” and spent all evening ‘dying’ in increasingly bizarre ways.

None of us, however, at that time, played D&D, or any sort of role play really, and so it was not something that I ever got into. As happens in life, we got older, went to university, moved to different cities and I rarely see any of those old friends any more, although we’re all back in touch via social media (The Future. We live in it.)

The longer I didn’t play it, the harder it got to find a way of getting to play it, because the harder it became to admit I’d never played it. And if I couldn’t admit I’d never played it, I couldn’t find away of getting to play it. I think of this as the ‘Fake Geek Paradox’.

Just in case you’ve never used the internet ever and haven’t come across the phrase ‘fake geek’ or ‘fake geek girl’ A ‘Fake Geek’ is someone that is accused of just liking geeky things in order to appear cool, or in the case of ‘fake geek girl’ to get attention from men (the total LOGIC FAIL of the latter is rather nicely dealt with here). If you don’t know EVERY GEEK THING EVER, or if you don’t know ALL OF THE TINIEST MOST OBSCURE FACTS about the things you already like, then you are a Fakey McFakester Geek and you’re only doing it because you want to bathe in the Coolness that is GEEKERY.

The idea that this is a thing that someone would do – co-opt geek culture to be cool – boggles my mind, having grown up as a weirdo geek type with fringe interests and an offbeat sense of humour and having experienced friendlessness, bullying and ostracisation as a result – until I found my little bubble of equally weird and geeky mates that is. But nowadays, the Geeks have inherited the earth (someone was standing at the back for the sermon on the mount and clearly misheard) and geeks are cool. Comics are cool. Sci-fi is cool. Dragons are really fucking cool. Movies made from comic books are at PEAK cool. So of course people want to be geeks now.

The Fake Geek Paradox is when you can’t find out about new things you will probably like, because you can’t admit you don’t already know about it, because to admit you don’t know about it opens you up to accusations of fake geekery. Those accusations are, effectively, what stops you being able to find out new things you’ll like.

Say, for example, if you don’t know ALL THE THINGS about The X Men comics, but think you might quite like to read them, because you watched the Saturday morning cartoons and they were kind of cool, and you kind of liked the movies but they weren’t totally amazing and you’d like to check out the original source. But admitting you haven’t read the X Men comics, and only like the X Men because you liked the cartoon and the movies? FAKE GEEK. So you can’t ask people for recommendations of where to start and have to work it out for yourself. Of course, we have Google so you could research and work it out for yourself – but it’s not quite the same as being introduced by a friend or someone that knows you, and it’s more expensive than, y’know, just being able to borrow them. When it comes to something like D&D,  you can’t really just work it out for yourself because it by definition involves other people. Unless you are able to literally clone yourself and that’s a fairly extreme way to go about playing D&D while not letting on to anyone else that you’ve never played D&D before.

Over the last few years the concept of the  ‘Fake Geek’, and the ‘Fake Geek Girl’ in particular, have been beautifully criticiseddebunked and satirised. I started recognising where the Fake Geek Paradox was actually preventing me from discovering things I might really enjoy. I realised that if I was going to be able to get out of the Fake Geek Paradox trap I was just going to have to start fessing up when I Didn’t Know Things. So on one of the online communities I am in I just came out and said “I have to admit, I’d never heard of Guardians of the Galaxy before. Where should I start with the comics?” To my surprise, several other people (and not just all women either) commented afterwards that they hadn’t heard of it either, but felt they couldn’t admit it, and had wanted to read the comics but felt they couldn’t ask. Fake Geek Paradox in action, people.

After that first ‘coming out’ moment with Guardians of the Galaxy, it seemed to get easier to start admitting all the things I knew nothing about but wanted to try. I admitted I’d not read or seen any Game of Thrones – and someone offered to lend me all the books. Then I admitted I’d never played Dungeons and Dragons but had always wanted to, ever since puzzling over that red box as a child. 3 other people said “me too” – within a matter of weeks a game was planned and thus  last night another virgin D&D friend and I found ourselves being led into a cave of goblins, wolves and other monsters and discovering that bugbears have a limited vocabulary and speak in the 3rd person and that 20 sided Dice really are bastards.

This is the point my D20 had to sit outside the room for a while as a punishment.

“OTHER THINGS IN THE THIRD PERSON!!! CLARG!!”

I didn’t entirely understand it all, and the maths part of it I found really tricky, but I really enjoyed the storytelling and the collaborative aspects – it’s a game that requires a great deal of communication and teamwork so it’s strange, and totally nonsensical,  that over the decades it has become synonymous with socially awkward dudes playing in a dark basement. I wish I’d felt able to spot myself trapped in the Fake Geek Paradox years ago and just said hey, I’ve never played this before. Can someone teach me?

So I am going to keep trying to avoid that paradox from now on, because sometimes good things can come of admitting you don’t know everything. And if I get called a ‘fake geek girl’ at times because of it? That’s fine, go ahead. I’ll be in a well lit room with a group of socially awesome smart people pretending to be a totally badass  7′ tall 300lb half dragon lightening breathing paladin  and it won’t be any less fun because someone thinks I am doing it to be cool.

 

Posted in feminism, Me Me Me, my opinions let me show you them | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Dancing with myself

For a blog which began to document my attempts to not drink alcohol for a year, it strikes me that I’ve not posted much about the new year when technically I could drink if I wanted. And well, that’s because I haven’t actually wanted a drink yet. There’s been no lack of opportunity. I’ve been to several pub lunches, a couple of post-work dinners, some colleagues’ leaving drinks and several club nights. Not only have I not drunk alcohol at any of them, but it didn’t even occur to me to do so. Not drinking has just sort of naturally segued from “look at me, I am not drinking for a year, I am crazy badass” via “Meh. Alcohol is a rubbish drug. I can’t be bothered” to “Lime and soda please. Oh, no thanks, I don’t drink” without me even noticing.

ICE BITCHES

As I’ve set out to each of these events the thought of having a drink there has been oddly secondary. Occasionally tertiary. I went out dancing last night, and on my way I vaguely considered having some sort of energy drink for larks, but I was still on a sustained endorphin high from a particularly cold swim earlier that day and thus decided I was probably wired enough already.  The music was fantastic, but the dancefloor a little slow to get going. After failing to get anyone to dance to Daisy Chainsaw with me so I just went “fuck it” and danced by myself. Stone cold sober. Would I have done that before last year? Sure, I’d have danced by myself; but I would have wanted to have been drunk first so that if anyone was like “look at that saddo dancing by herself” I would have a drunkscuse. Not for the first time I pondered how strangely freeing it is to do something because you want to and not to feel the need to be hammered to justify it.

After my energetic solo dancing I found myself thirsty and headed to the bar, offering to buy a drink for my friend celebrating his birthday at the club. “Brilliant, yes! I’ll come to the bar with you because you’re drinking again now, aren’t you? We can have a drink together!” Um. Well, technically, we could. Because I am not not drinking. Technically. But, well, I don’t want one. He shrugged and said “Fair enough. Seems reasonable.” And, well, it does, doesn’t it? 

As I sipped my ginger beer I wondered about this sense of just not really wanting a drink. Put like that, it clearly makes reasonable sense to not start drinking again just for the sake of it – just because my year of abstinence is up. Why would you have an alcoholic drink if you don’t really feel like having one? Put like that, it does actually seem perfectly reasonable to say “I’ll have one when I want one”. But save for that one mulled wine on New Year’s Day, I haven’t actually wanted one

I didn’t even want a drink when I hit my favourite  bar (and according to the proprietor my “second home”) which sells home-made liqueurs; somewhere I’d planned to have drinks at some point when I was drinking again, since my first visit while half way through my no-alcohol 2014. It was odd to look through their cocktail list and know that there was nothing actually stopping me from ordering, and drinking, any of the delicious looking options other than, well, I didn’t want one.

What is it I don’t want?  Is it that I don’t want to spend the money? I’ve got so used to spending no more than £5 total on an average night on limes and sodas or the occasional ginger beer or a pot of tea. Perhaps part of me is rebelling at spending more than that on one drink. Is it that I don’t want to be drunk? Perhaps. I’ve spent a whole year being more or less in total control of myself of a night out (a few nights with one too many Monster Rehabs notwithstanding), and an entire year without hangovers has been enough to make me reticent to every have one ever again. Or is it that being a Not Drinker became a powerful symbol of change; became part of who I am in an undefinable way? Is it that I am enjoying being that girl who doesn’t drink but is still fun, and I don’t want to – am not ready to – give that up just yet?

It’s strange for me to have been a binge drinker since the age of (if I am honest here, and sorry Mum) 15 to have been able to so completely remove something from my life that I considered absolutely pivotal to my enjoyment of my social life. It makes me question so much about my past – all of those amazing hilarious drunken nights with friends; would they – could they – have been just as awesome without the ‘drunk’ if my own self esteem and confidence were better? If I’d been able at the age of 15 or 19 or  25 or even 30 to just go and dance on my own like I didn’t actually give a shit what people thought? What about my friends, I wonder. How many of them sometimes really want to do something but feel they need to be drunk to do it? Is this just me, and my own long term anxiety issues, or have we sort of built up a culture around what sort of behaviour is ‘ok when you’re drunk but a bit weird when you’re sober’?

I don’t have any answers to any of the questions I am raising here. The only thing I  know for sure is that I don’t want a drink. And more importantly, I don’t need one. Not to get myself revved up to go out. Not to quell going-out-anxiety demons. Not to be the only one on the dancefloor. And until I want one, I am not going to have one. If I find myself needing one, then I am definitely not going to have one.

Posted in Drinking, my opinions let me show you them, The List | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments