On my recent trip to South Africa to visit my mother, we had one day in Cape Town to spend together before she had to go back to her town and three days before my flight. We packed as much in to that one day together, with her showing me all the changes at the waterfront since my last visit and just enjoying our rare time together. We walked past a little shop in the V&A Waterfront’s “Watershed”, a redevelopment since I was last there, which hosts small creative businesses. The shop was called “Original Tea Bag design”, and Mum told me that they made everything using tea bags as a design canvas. Obviously I was interested, and wanted to know more. While we had a last drink together in the sunset we looked at a map to make plans for my last few days of solo exploring and realised that one of Cape Town’s red bus tours that goes all around the peninsula stopped at the Original Tea Bag designs factory, and that even better, your bus ticket entitled you to a free cup of tea. “ooh brilliant, you can’t beat a free cup of tea” I said, and my mum had a giggling fit. I can’t imagine why.
Last March, shortly before 2015’s Sexual Violence Awareness month, I published “Consent: not actually that complicated” – now simply known as “Tea Consent” – on my blog. I had no idea, when I clicked the “publish” button, that I had just written something that would travel around the world, be animated, be read and watched tens of millions of times and become the basis for syllabi for consent and awareness courses in countries on every continent. It seems so unlikely that I am pretty sure it still hasn’t quite sunk in, even a year later.
One criticism often levelled at “Tea Consent” is its limitation to reach the people that really need to understand the message – ergo rapists. “What’s the point of this video? Rapists don’t care” goes the argument, and “no silly cartoon about tea is going to actually make an actual rapist actually not rape” or “anyone that understands this already knows rape is wrong”.
My intention with my blog today was to re-post my spoiler free review of the Red Dwarf screening I went to on Friday, written for Ganymede & Titan; because going to see Red Dwarf filmed live is something I have wanted to do since I was <ahem> years old in 1988 and first saw it and because you must never underestimate my laziness. Why write a thing on Sunday I’ve already written a thing on Saturday.
But then I went to have my last swim at the ladies pond in Hampstead for many months, as it closes today for renovations to be carried out to the changing room, decking and lifeguard room, and there were so many resultant FEELS that I had to get it out of my head. That’s why I write, usually. To get the feels and the nagging voices out of my head.
Long term followers of this blog may remember that I started swimming at the pond halfway through my alcohol-free year, and that it was a big moment for me in my journey of accepting myself and my body. It became a fundamental part of my journey, so much so that I marked the end of that year at the pond itself, with a New Year’s Day swim. I have continued swimming there regularly (bar a few enforced breaks due to tattoo sessions – pond water and healing tattoos do not mix) ever since.
My little swimming group of women, the “snowflake ladies” as we’ve come to be known by the other regular pond swimmers, have become some of my closest friends and confidants; they are supportive, challenging, intelligent, fun and they have probably helped me over the last year more than they even know. They were the inspiration for my blog about women and the myth of competition. They get me out of bed in the morning, keep me sober, and remind me that there are truly wonderful magical things about this world that are worth working to keep, to save and to treasure.
They’ve taught me the importance of holding an open mind (even if it’s only a teeny tiny opening) and the value of being able to say the phrase “I haven’t thought about it like that before” about anything – especially subjects about which you think that you think a lot about already. My understanding of feminist issues has developed in conversation with them, along with my understanding of my own privileges and prejudices, my flaws and strengths. I am better at accepting challenge and criticism, better at accepting compliments and praise, and better at believing in myself and my own opinions and not so needful of validation from others.
Yes, all of this from a regular all-women swimming group. Amazing, no? If you don’t have a group of amazing women to surround yourself with on a weekly basis, I recommend you find yourself one. (Not necessarily to swim in cold water with of course, you do you.) Nothing will cure a case of internal misogyny (I am not like other girls. Women are just so annoying. I am just not interested in girly things, you know. I just get on better with guys. Women don’t talk about things that interest me. Groups of women are so bitchy, aren’t they?) than a group of women like this.
Every woman I have ever met at this pond has been warm, friendly and open; the only thing that links us all as that we’re all women and we all have shared understanding of the joy of swimming in the pond and of the weird burning sensation in odd places when you immerse yourself in near-freezing water. The “snowflake ladies” are comparatively young compared to much of the wider regular pond swimming community, both in our ages and in the length of time we’ve been part of it. Many of the women have been swimming there for decades – some for 60, 70 years or more. Seeing the pond closed for what will be really quite major changes was a huge moment for many of the regulars, and they dealt with it with their usual cheerfulness, openness, warmth and community spirit. Many women leapt in to the water in fancy dress or comedy hats. A huge picnic feast was provided, much of it home made. There was tea, coffee and a home-made cheesecake-esque dish decorated with berries that spelled out “we <3 pond”. Chalk was provided for everyone to draw on the walls, soon to be demolished. Women wrote messages; “we will miss you”, “the pond is a source of joy forever”, “farewell ducks, see you soon”, “this pond saved my life”.
Just as we were about to leave, the ladies pond choir lined up at the front of the decking – they take well known songs and re-write them to be pond-relevant. Reluctant to leave the fuzzy warm glow of the community (and the food) we lingered on to listen. At first we listened, then, as we picked up the familiar tunes, we joined in. We stayed for all of the songs in the end, which culminated in everyone holding hands in a cramped circle, all crowded onto the decking, singing and crying and laughing. One of the women from the choir stepped forward and said she’d like us all to sing a song that she sang when she was at Greenham, that other women that had been there would remember it, and that the rest of us would pick it up. We did. We sang. And it was beautiful.
There are times in your life when you realise you’ve just been hit by the figurative hammer of internal bias, and this was one of those. Even as a feminist, a mouthy opinionated one who mouths those opinions all over the internet, you can never be intersectional enough not to be hit with that hammer. As the figurative hammer of internal misogyny hit me in the face, the figurative piano of internal ageism landed on my head.
I was suddenly struck by how very powerful all these women were. How much changes they’d seen, and how many changes they’d driven and been part of. How many times these women, and others like them through history have changed the world, against the odds and despite a world telling us that we’re weak and powerless. Despite a world which minimises the importance of what women do, that criticises what women like, that demonises anything perceived as “feminine” to the point that it’s used as an insult. The world tells us all day after day that women are not powerful. The world tells us that older women are invisible. That once our looks and youth fade, our usefulness has passed. But older women have so much knowledge and experience; and can develop that Teflon skin that enables them to give absolutely no fucks whatsoever about what society thinks about them which can give them an even louder voice.
The patriarchy has a vested interest in the idea that women are not powerful, that women cannot get on, that women compete, that women cannot invent or challenge, that women cannot effect change, that the voices of older women are not worth listening to. It’s a myth, a lie. A convenient untruth that even I had internalised.
The woman leading us all in song was part of a movement that changed the world. The women I have regularly spent the last two years swimming with have changed my world.
Women are powerful. We just have to recognise it.
(If you’d rather read my spoiler-free review of the Red Dwarf filming, you can do so over at Ganymede & Titan…)
“People think dreams aren’t real just because they aren’t made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes” – from Preludes and Nocturnes, Neil Gaiman
Five years ago to the day tomorrow, 18th January, I lost my beautiful grandmother – Gangy – my Dad’s mother. We lost her suddenly, with an undiagnosed heart condition taking her away unexpectedly and cruelly for us, although without much pain and suffering for her. Just shy of 11 years beforehand I lost my Grannie, my Mum’s mother. She died of liver cancer, with which she had suffered for many months; becoming particularly unwell in her final months. As a sharp woman she was particularly distressed at the way the pain medication made her confused and helpless. In her lucid moments she knew how dependant on her carers and her family she was, and it upset her greatly. Her months of suffering gave her family a chance to prepare for her passing, so that when it came it wasn’t a shock, although still terribly sad; but they were at times such terrible months for her.
CW: sexual harassment/assault
A few weeks ago, just before Christmas, I was in a queue waiting to pay for some food I’d just ordered to eat on the train home after my evening class. I was listening to music playing as I often do. I have BIG OBVIOUS headphones, in part to discourage people making conversation with me. A man’s face appeared right next to my face, too sudden, too close. It made me jump a little. I leaned back, pushing one earphone back as I realised he was talking to me. “Sorry darling can I just push in? My train is in five minutes”. “So’s mine…” I started to say. The rest of the sentence would have been “…and I have already ordered, so you’d need to check with the person behind me” but went unsaid. As I started to speak, this man, this stranger who had already inserted himself into my personal space and called me “darling”, placed his hand on my hip. It was the hand I couldn’t see, placed around the other side of my body, effectively holding me in a light embrace, trapping me between his arm and the counter. It was a gentle touch, not particularly forceful, and it seemed entirely thoughtless, careless, casual; I was a woman, he was patting me on the hip. Just so.
Hi there Katie, how you doing? Finding ways to spin another story into fiction? I wouldn’t be surprised given your recent article.
According to you, there is ‘another side that is not being told,’ to the stories about the Muslim family denied entry to USA that have been floating about recently. Well, you’re right. It’s called “the truth”. I write this as a person who has known the family in question for almost 8 years.
Cycle commuting in the UK at the moment is very much a male dominated mode of transport. This is often used as an argument as to why more money shouldn’t be spent on it – suddenly commentators who’ve never given even half a fuck about women and minorities decide they care when it comes to spending money on cycling – which is a really idiotic argument that ignores the fact that where you DO spend money on cycling, suddenly people who aren’t white, male young and fit join in. Hence why the Netherlands actually has more women making journeys by bike than men. A better argument would be quite the other way around- that if you have a mode of transport that only white young fit men use regularly, then there’s a big problem for access to that mode of transport that we need to fix. I mean, if only white young fit men were able to safely use buses we wouldn’t be saying BAN BUSES we’d be saying “how can we make buses safer so that everyone can use them?”
Long time readers will have learned a number of things about my personality and habits. They will know that I am a horrible cook and an even worse baker. I am the pirate queen of procrastination. They will therefore be unsurprised to discover that today, instead of the long list of grown up things I needed to do, which included vacuuming, laundry, toiletries shopping, language course homework and writing a proper grown up blog about sensible things, I instead went to Hobbycraft and spent money I don’t have on things I didn’t need in order to make things that no one needs, wants or can use.
Halloween has been and gone, and with it, the annual discussion over inappropriate costuming. Each year, the discussion gets a little louder, a little clearer. Each year the people going “this is not ok” grow in number, and the angry people who want to wear whatever they like get a little more angry and defensive.
Consent has been in the press this week again, thanks to a couple of young men who were deeply personally insulted and affronted at the nerve, the sheer bloody gall, the CHEEK of their presumptious places of learning, to include them into an invite that went to all students to voluntary consent courses.