harassment is not a virtual issue

I was going to write something about drinking this week, because it’s been a while, and last week’s post was kinda feministy and I like to usually mix things up a bit in between the being Really Angry About Things but something, well, two somethings but really the same something, happened this week which made me, well, Really Angry about Things.

Thing 1 – Sue Perkins – cake botherer, national treasure and all round amazing person – was hounded off Twitter due to some baseless rumours that she could be in the running to present Top Gear. For non UK people, Top Gear is ostensibly a program about cars, but for many years has basically been a vehicle (oh, lol) for the champion of the sort of people that say things like  “I’m not a bigot but I should be allowed to say these things it’s political correctness gone mad MAD I TELL YOU.” The completely fabricated rumour that she was in the running, prompted by some Screenshot from Twitter. Text reads: Clarkson's Law: The reaction of many Top Gear fans to Top Gear demonstrates the need for changes to be made to Top Gearbetting activity, led to death threats so severe she left twitter. No doubt to a celebration of the Top Gear fans and any other people who just like sending women on Twitter death threats.

Thing 2 – Just a few days later, Jack Monroe – austerity chef, anti-poverty campaigner and down to earth ‘accidentally famous‘ blogger – was also hounded off Twitter. In her case she hadn’t done anything as egregious as be at the centre of rumours so much as simply being a lesbian, or a ‘militant queer’ in the words of one of the messages.

These aren’t the first women to be literally harassed off the internet. There is much writing already out there about how women with opinions are often the recipients of horrific (and very much gendered) internet harassment and threats. Occasionally the perpetrators are caught and face punishment, but more often they slip through the net (oh, lol) in the face of internet harassment being such a ‘new’ phenomenon that the courts and police aren’t really equipped to fully deal with it.

When they spoke of this harassment publicly many – if not all – of these women were advised (either well meaningly or otherwise) to ‘just get off the internet if you don’t like it’.

Just get off the internet.

Because off the internet, women don’t ever get harassed  or assaulted for being women, right?

There’s this strange idea, which has been around for a really super long time, that the internet isn’t a ‘real’ place. Back when I first started using the internet it was mainly newsgroups, and later LiveJournal. The idea there that the internet was somehow a separate world to the ‘real’ one was super pervasive back then, and the acronym IRL which you don’t see often these days – meant ‘In Real Life’.  Even I bought into this idea that the internet was literally not real life and therefore somehow behaviour could be held to different standards. It was one of my closest and oldest friends that took me to task on this, years before Facebook was pivotal in transforming the internet from a niche interest to a normal part of most people’s lives.

The thing is, she pointed out, the iImage: Quotation from Terry Pratchet reading "Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things."nternet IS a real place. Ok, it’s a virtual space, but it’s inhabited by real people, who make up real communities. She pointed out that if people kept thinking of the internet as ‘not real’ then they’d start thinking of other people on the internet as ‘not real’. And once you start thinking of real people as not actually real, with real feelings, then you stop treating them like people.

So let’s stop pretending the internet isn’t real life. It is. It’s as much a public place as a town square; with people meeting up, chatting on benches, buying things from the market and the shops, hanging out in a cafe, or in the library, or just watching life pass by. Just because it’s virtual, doesn’t make it ‘not real’.

And let’s stop pretending that by ‘leaving the internet’ a woman’s harassment will stop. I have been harassed by men I don’t know in public ever since I hit puberty. What should I do? Never walk on the street? Never leave my house?  For some of the women harassed online they can’t even feel safe in their own house.

The harassment of women is not limited to the internet. The harassment of some of the women that started on the internet didn’t remain on the internet. The harassment of some women in real life followed them to the internet. Women can’t stop being harassed by leaving the internet any more than they can stop harassment by, say, moving to a different city, no matter what some people might say. Because harassment isn’t limited to one internet site, to one city, to one country. It is a global problem.

When I was sexually assaulted in January by a stranger, he probably wasn’t expecting me to react with anger, fury and loud shouting. He probably wasn’t expecting me to call the police. I knew the police could probably do little but I wanted to make sure my voice was heard, my incident was recorded, that I didn’t brush this off as just something that happens all the time that I should just put up with and change my behaviour to avoid. I didn’t stop going out with my friends or getting public transport or crossing the road.

When that man groped me, I am quite sure he wasn’t consciously thinking “If I grab that girls bum she’ll know her place. I am going to demonstrate my power over her by grabbing her bum. This bum grabbing will let her know that as a man I am entitled to her body in a public space”. He was possibly drunk, saw a girl with her back to  him minding her own business and saw nothing wrong in touching her. Maybe he even thought it was funny.

When people harass women on the internet, it’s quite likely that they aren’t consciously thinking “I will put this woman in her place. I am more entitled to this space than she is. Her opinions aren’t welcome and I will demonstrate my greater importance by making her feel small and scared”. Maybe they see nothing wrong in making these threats. Maybe they even think it’s funny.

Part of me wasn’t even sure whether I should write this. I feared writing about the harassment of women, and linking to stories of harassed women, could potentially lead to attracting levels of harassment against me too. But then, isn’t that partly what these people that threaten and bully women online want, after all? They want the voices that are saying things they don’t like to stop. They want them to shut up. If I don’t speak up about this then I am letting those voices win and leaving the internet to them, to shout and bully unopposed; and I can’t do that. If I do get harassed online for writing this, perhaps it demonstrates a variation of Lewis’ Law.  Maybe “the comments on any online article by a woman about online  harassment are evidence of the problem of online harassment of women”?

We have a culture which allows and normalises the harassment of women in public spaces – both real and virtual – and the solution to preventing the harassment of women is NOT telling them to leave or stay away from public spaces, or to suggest that they are somehow responsible for their own harassment simply by being in those public spaces. The only people that are responsible for harassment are the harassers. And the way to stop them is for harassment to be taken seriously, whether online or off.

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“I wish we talked more about…” Part 1: Women and Sex

dinosaur_sexEarlier this week 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 the first blog of what I intend to be an ongoing yet occasional series themed around “Things we wish were talked about more openly.”

Before we go further, I am going to add a content warning. 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, lengthy pre-amble complete, let’s get it over with.

“I wish we spoke more openly about…

Women’s masturbation, sexual pleasure & orgasms”

It’s pretty much accepted that boys wank. It’s a common trope in fiction and a frequent joke punchline. There are a million (hilarious) euphemisms for male self pleasuring, and you can make up a million more by just “Adjectiving the Noun”. Hugging the giraffe. catchphraseWrestling the one-eyed dragon. Marinating the sausage. Feel free to suggest your own. It’s most entertaining. While there’s a great deal of humour over the subject, male masturbation is generally accepted as a normal male act, part of healthy development and generally a pretty fun way to pass the time if you’ve got not much on and there’s nothing of interest on Netflix. But if you’re a woman, and you make a joke about “adding that to the wank bank” there’s often an awkward silence. Women’s masturbation, even in our relatively sexually enlightened culture, remains a taboo subject and jokes about women taking a walk in their own lady garden are OMG TOO SOON.

But yes, it’s true. Women do take themselves into their own hands. As with men, some will do so more often, some will do it a lot; some with a lower sex drive might not do it that often and some might just do it to pass the time and when there’s not much on Netflix. There should be no more shame in women having a solo joy party than a man doing so; but it’s so much harder to talk about. In part this is down to women often being seen as passive sexually; as not being sexual agents or having sexual desires of their own so  much as being something on to which male fantasies or acts are projected. A woman getting herself off doesn’t fit into this idea.

But not only is it super fun, and totally a feminist act (it so is. You are demonstrating your sexual agency as a subject. Totally a feminist act. Not just because there’s nothing on Netflix.) it can also be really valuable for a woman to explore herself; to learn what she likes and how, how she wants to be touched and what gets her excited. If she learns her own body, she’s going to be able to better guide her sexual partners to what she likes, to mutual sexual satisfaction.

Mutual sexual satisfaction in a relationship isn’t something that just happens. Every one’s body is different, and people take pleasure in different things. So it’s really important if you care about your partner and their happiness that you both find out what you enjoy, what they enjoy, and what you can do for each other. The frustrating stereotype that women spend their time avoiding sex with their male partners that never get enough is not only pretty offensive but perpetuates the idea of a passive female object for the pleasure of sextimesmen. For this chap buying his darling beloved a latte for Christmas, my main thought was “well perhaps if you were more interested in pleasing her than getting yourself off she’d enjoy the sex more, and you’d get more sex”. Sex shouldn’t be a transaction, bought with gifts and begging. If your partner isn’t totally into the sex with you, then maybe you need to be having a conversation about what you can do that will please him/her. And if you can’t have conversations like this without either of you getting embarrassed/awkward/upset/turned off it’s kind of a red flag. If you can’t communicate about what makes you both happy sexually, perhaps you need to think about whether you have a good relationship in the first place, as the key to a good relationship is communication.

One of the big problems here is the pervasive myth of the vaginal orgasm. It was in 1905 that Freud claimed that vaginal orgasms were something that ‘adult’ women had, while ‘adolescent’ women had clitoral orgasms. Freud had absolutely no evidence for this assertion whatsoever. No studies, no facts; it was all based on  his own theories of sexuality. Despite our understanding of human sexuality, biology and psychology moving on significantly  in the intervening one hundred and ten years we’re still clinging onto this outdated view of orgasms – which let’s remind ourselves was based on exactly no actual evidence. The theory has been heavily criticised ever since  but somehow the myth clings on.

Movies, TV, books, porn, magazines; they all continue to perpetuate this myth that women have these big old screaming orgasms from penetrative sex when actually the vast majority of women simply can’t.  It’s not because their male partner’s penis isn’t big or wide or hard enough, or because the man isn’t good at sexing enough; it’s because most lady parts are just physically not designed that way. Our culture is obsessed with the idea of P in V penetrative sex when that’s one tiny part of a whole range of super awesome fun times you can have, many of which are more likely to result in *mutual* pleasure. It’s no coincidence that lesbians tend to have more orgasms than women in straight relationships; it’s because they are engaging in a whole lot of ‘extracurricular’ activities that directly stimulate all of the best places.

If you’re a dude, and you’ve got this far (good on you!) and you’re looking sidelong at your girlfriend, wondering if she’s faked it, don’t be too hard on her. Many women will admit to faking it because they’ve had fun, but know they aren’t going to climax, and they know their partner is holding out for her, and she wants him to enjoy himself, and so will fake it to help him make it. If you get me. But if you’re only ever doing the P&V thing and your girlfriend isn’t up for it that often then leave off the sarky picture macros and the passive aggressive comments and just talk to her. It’s not your penis, it’s her vagina. Just because parts other than her vagina need need stimulation from things other than your penis doesn’t mean she doesn’t really like your penis (or the man it’s attached to.)

We need to stop thinking about sex as simply being “place penis in vagina and pump for a bit”, and thinking of it as a whole range of sexual acts which please everyone involved. Forget the word ‘foreplay’ – that suggests that all the other stuff is just the prologue, when for many women the ‘other stuff’ is most of the novel, with the actual penetrate part being the epilogue. Or maybe even the acknowledgement. And as with women’s masturbation, this all links back to society’s difficulty in seeing women as sexual beings in their own right, as likely to be horny, with desires and pleasures of their own, and wanting some sweaty love times as much as men.

(And if any of my family are still reading, don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

All comments are subject to moderation

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On the Bonfire

Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess:

A mid-week blogday bonus! I wrote this for the fabulous Good Morning, Good Morning. Go check out their blog!

The brief was “get it off your chest” so I thought I’d tell everyone about my BONFIRE. What would you put on the pink & blue bonfire?

Originally posted on Good Morning, Good Morning!:

bonfireboxes1 copyTheme: Get it off your chest.

***
Written by Emmeline May*, Brilliant Guest Blogger

Lately I’ve been building a bonfire in my head. It’s a pretty big bonfire. I’ve stopped expressing myself in actual words and have found myself merely screaming “F**K THIS SHIT. PUT IT ON THE BONFIRE!” at the computer screen. Or the TV screen. Or, on one occasion, at my friend across the table at lunch, which surprised her so much she dropped her fork.

The bonfire is made, largely, of pink and blue boxes. Pink boxes contain all the things which tell women how and what they are meant to be and like. Blue boxes contain everything men are meant to do and be and want.

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so tell me who are you?

2014-09-21 15.17.55How do you recognise your loved ones? That probably seems like a daft question to many of you. Obviously you recognise them because they are them. They, you know, look like them. That’s how you know that they are them. You recognise them by their face, right?

It wasn’t until relatively recently that I realised that I don’t recognise my loved ones by their face, and that I’d never been able to really recognise people by their faces.

I’ve always found faces difficult. As a child I used to panic if I lost sight of my mum out shopping in case I couldn’t find her again. I could easily walk right past her, especially if she was trying something on and therefore wasn’t wearing the same thing as she had been earlier.

When people would say “ohhh, look at this baby. He looks JUST like his father” I’d be like “yeahhh, just like him” but my inside voice is going (it looks like a baby seriously. It looks like all babies. You’re making this up to make the parents feel better.)  When people exclaim “oh, I knew this was your sister/brother/aunt/mother, there’s SUCH a strong family resemblance” I nod and agree and say “yeah wow” but my inside voice is going (Really? But they have different hair colour. How can you TELL??) When people I haven’t seen for decades come up to me and go “OMG it’s YOU! How brilliant! You haven’t changed a bit” I go “oh wow, yeah! Haha, nice to see you! How are you?” And my inside voice is going (seriously who are you please give me some sort of cue or tell me who you are and what do you mean I haven’t changed if you know me from school my hair wasn’t purple then WHO ARE YOU). When people say hi to me in the street,  or look at me with that distinctive “I know you and you know me hello” facial expression and they aren’t people  I know really well there’s usually several minutes of winging it where on the outside I am going “oh HIIIIIIIII! How ARE you? What are you up to today?” while my inside voice is frantically flicking through my internal rolodex of People I Don’t Know Well That Might Be In This Sort Of Place, in the sections marked Work People, People From My Local Community, Friends Of Friends and trying to put together the clues from what they’re saying as to who they might be.

As far as I am concerned, people being able to recognise other people’s faces is pretty much WITCHCRAFT and I could never work out how they managed it. I assumed everyone else saw faces the way I did, but were just much better at remembering them than me.

About 10 years ago I was at a wonderful production called “The Masque of the Red Death” by  Punchdrunk Theatre company. It was a beautiful immersive theatre experience, where the stories happen around you as you wander around the performance space. All the audience members are handed, and instructed to wear, a full face covering mask as you enter the performance space, and large groups are deliberately split up upon entry.  It was attending this performance with a group of about 15 friends where I had the revelation. As I moved through the space I kept encountering my friends. I knew who they were immediately. My friend C, because she has this way of standing just so, with her ankles crossed and her head on one side. My friend T, who has this habit of sort of rocking his shoulders when concentrating. My friend A, with her pale skin and habit of hunching her shoulders inwards a little when she doesn’t feel quite comfortable. With their faces covered, all of these gestures were so much clearer. And it struck me – for the first time in my life – that this is how I recognise people. Their faces are meaningless to me – as distinctive and recognisable as individual pebbles on a beach. It was physical cues, posture, gesture and style that I was picking up on, and deducing that that person was C, or T or A.

After this experience we all hit the bar for a few drinks and I studied their faces, now the masks were removed. I noted how distinctive their facial expressions where when talking, or listening. How unique their hand gestures were, how they held their bodies when they spoke. This was how I was recognising my loved ones.

The penny, however, didn’t really drop at this point. I just accepted at the time that I had a problem with faces, and got on with my life.

In the early days of my relationship with the former Mr RDP I told him I had a problem with faces, after an incredibly embarrassing experience where a good friend of his said hello to me and I blanked him – not knowing who he was and thinking he was some random dude talking to me. The ExMrRDP was really upset with me, and his friend was quite hurt. I explained that I really struggled with faces and had genuinely no idea who he was and apologised profusely. I don’t think either of them really believed me. Whenever we went anywhere that would involve meeting his friends, he was hugely frustrated that I wouldn’t enter the room/pub/club etc. without him. I explained that I was anxious that I wouldn’t know who his friends were, even though I’d met them. I think he thought I was just being a bit daft. A few years into our relationship he decided on a whim to shave his head. He went into the bathroom someone I knew, and came out a complete stranger. I knew it was him, of course it was. When he spoke, that was his voice. And those were his facial expressions. But they were coming out of a face I didn’t know, and it was genuinely terrifying. For months, until his hair started to grow back, I walked right past him in the street. I flinched when he went to kiss or hug me. I had a few panic attacks when I woke up in the night and in that moment of existential uncertainty you have upon waking saw a complete stranger in my bed. I had no idea that a mere haircut would produce such a profound effect on me; and I think he was very hurt by my reaction too – understandably so.

But again, the penny didn’t drop then either. I waited for his hair to grow back, encouraged him to wear hats as often as possible, and got on with my life.

When I gave up drinking, and my relationship with Mr RDP ended, I experienced Walking Into Places Alone And Sober. This brought home to me with a shock how much anxiety I had over not recognising groups of friends in public places. I realised that pre-heavy-drinking-days I had always made sure I arrived at the meeting place early, with a book, so that I wouldn’t have to find my friends; I’d already be there so they would see me and come to me. It occurred to me – genuinely for the first time – that a big chunk of my social anxiety was tied up in this fear of walking straight past my friends, of not knowing who they were, of looking foolish or thoughtless. That one of the reasons for my ‘power drinking’ before going out was so that I would have a drunkscuse for not recognising people. (LOL I walked RIGHT PAST you OMG I have been drinking ALL DAY).

Even then, the penny didn’t drop. Although by that point I had firmly grasped the idea that I Can’t Do Faces and Other People Can, I still hadn’t put it all together. Until earlier this year, when J, one of my oldest Internet Friends, who I’ve never actually met in person, shared a ‘face blindness test’ online, revealing that she’d got one of the lowest scores possible, and that she was mildly freaking out that most people could actually pass this test. I did the test too, and scored the same as her. We shared some of our embarrassing facial recognition fails. We shared our astonishment that other people genuinely could tell each other apart just from looking at their faces. And we discovered at the same time that there’s a very high likelihood that we both have a genuine condition called Prosopagnosia.

A million pennies, unknowingly stored up over my >3 decades on this planet, dropped all at once with an almighty CLANG. J and I scoured the internet for more information,  and going OMG YES THIS IS MY LIFE and feeling a weird mixture of elation and fear (there IS something wrong with me! YAY!/There IS something wrong with me, OH SHIT).

We read that it was often hereditary, so I got in touch with Mummy RDP who immediately responded OMG YES THIS IS MY LIFE TOO. We both admitted that whenever anyone tells us how alike we look (I am informed that it’s a rather uncanny resemblance) that we just nod and go “yes, I know, amazing isn’t it” but actually neither of us are able to see it – unless we are wearing the exact same clothes and have the same hairstyle.

Now I know it’s there, I am able to spot all the little ways in which it affects things which perhaps ‘normal’ people take for granted. For example, as much as I enjoyed Orphan Black (spoiler ahead if you’ve not seen it. WHY HAVEN’T YOU SEEN IT? Go and watch it right now. NOW. Then come back and finish reading this. Ok. Are you done? Good isn’t it! Now carry on…) it took me most of the first episode to work out that the whole thing at the beginning was Sarah looks at the woman jumping in front of the train and recognises her own face.  This was meaningless to me. As far as I was concerned they were completely different people. As I watched more of the showI had to work really hard to identify who were meant to be the clones. To me, they all have different hairstyles, different facial expressions and gestures (and this is a testament to how superb lead actor Tatiana Maslany is – WHERE ARE HER AWARDS) and therefore as far as I am concerned they don’t look alike.  It makes sense of why I can pretty much never follow Thrillers, or James Bond Movies, or any movie which relies on someone turning out to actually have been working for the bad guys all along, or any movie with a really big cast. I can’t tell who all these people ARE. It explains my preference for Superhero movies, friends with coloured hair and piercings and tattoos. It explains why I tend to be attracted to people with unusual or striking faces. It explains why I can’t see myself in photos, why I prefer to have unnatural coloured hair (I have failed to recognise my own reflection on more than one occasion) and, of course, it explains much of my social anxiety.

While the initial revelation made me feel like everyone else had been walking around with a superpower (the power to recognise people) that I didn’t have, I am also realising what the benefits are of my brain compensating for my lack of magical recognition ability. I can read facial expressions, micro-expressions, emotional states and body language LIKE A BOSS. I often know how people are thinking or feeling before they even express it. (Which, I am told, is also really annoying sometimes.) It maybe makes me poor at initial meetings, but it’s helped me be a great communicator. It also helps me to be nicer to complete strangers. You never know, that person pissing you off on the tube might actually be the person who interviewed you for a job, so let’s maybe NOT call them a shitweasel.

Since the dropping-of-all-the pennies I’ve been much more upfront with people about my problems. Apologising immediately when someone says ‘’hi”, rather than making awkward conversation until I can work out who the hell they are and saying “sorry, I have face blindness and don’t recognise people well…” If anything, it’s a good conversation starter. If going on internet dates I message them before the date and ask them to come up to me and introduce themselves, because chances are I won’t be able to recognise them at all. It’s become an entertaining game to some of my friends – showing me pictures of people and going WHO IS THIS and watching me try to work it out.

I am learning that I am not a rubbish friend, or a bad person, for not knowing who people are, and my loved ones are getting used to the fact that I might walk past them in the street, and learning that it doesn’t make them any less loved.

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Splitting hairs

Even Dinosaurs were hairyI remember when I first tried to shave my legs. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I didn’t really even have any hair to shave. I’d just picked up from the magazines I read (because everyone else was reading them) that it was A Thing Teenage Girls Did and that to not shave would be unthinkable. I used a disposable razor I found in the bathroom and some talc. Yeah. I know. As you can probably imagine, I made a bit of a mess of it.

A few years later real hairs actually grew, I worked out how it was done without looking like a victim of Freddie Krueger. It never occurred to me to question the whole shaving thing. Not once. Shaving legs and armpits was just what you did. You’re a girl, puberty has arrived, and therefore you shave because girls aren’t meant to be hairy.

I didn’t question that for decades. Not until I started playing roller derby, in fact, and met some girls who didn’t shave. At first I was shocked. Because girls aren’t meant to be hairy, right? The girls who didn’t shave had all, at some point, received actual verbal abuse for having hair in places where girls aren’t meant to be hairy. Keeping hair where hair grows, it turns out, is actually a radical political statement. Whether you chose not to shave because you can’t be bothered; because you have sensitive skin, or due to religious reasons, or for an actual political statement, being a hairy girl always ends up coming across like a political statement. Because girls aren’t meant to be hairy. But if girls aren’t MEANT to be hairy, how come we, y’know, grow hair?

A couple of years ago I developed one of my random allergic reactions. This happens to me occasionally. Some part of me will swell up, or burn, or flake, or itch or look like it’s trying to fall off. I will spend months trying to work out what the hell is causing it, cutting all sorts of things out of my life and then slowing bringing them back in one by one to try and work out what the fuck is making my life temporary hell. Sometimes, like accidentally watching the first part of a two part CSI while you’re sick off work and finding the second part isn’t on next because these things get shown in some bizarre order known only to some time travelling daytime TV scheduler, I never actually discover the culprit. The one that developed a few years ago that mainly affected my eyes, ears and patches of skin across my back and shoulders and made my skin extra sensitive was that unfinished two-parter. I had to cut out pretty much every strong chemical substance. For months I could wash only with expensive allergen free shower gel and put nothing stronger than coconut oil on my face. This also meant no shaving, so sensitive was my skin.

Whatever it was that caused this particular reaction left my skin permanently sensitive, so that I have to be really careful how often I shave it – unless I want to be a red flakey itchy burny mess.  And having spent rather a long time not shaving, I was out of the habit. And also starting to question why it was so important anyway. And wondering whether maybe it was better to be a bit hairy than a red flakey itchy burny mess, even though  I knew this would automatically put me into Not Shaving Political Statement territory.

Have you ever wondered WHY aren’t girls meant to be hairy? According to mental floss it’s all thanks to Harpers Bazaar (of course. Women’s Magazines. Have I mentioned before how much I hate women’s magazines? I am not sure I have. But I do. I hate them. I’ve hated them since I realised that on one page they tell you to be happy just as you are, the next page the best celebrity diet, the next a page shows you how fat this celebrity is, the next page worries that this celebrity is too thin. The next page points out that you don’t need a man to be happy, the one after tells you how to ‘bag your perfect man’ and in between all those pages are adverts telling you without these products you’ll be a fat, skinny, old, young, ugly, stupid, single trapped-in-loveless-hell frigid slutty wallflower harridan who no one will ever love who has to love yourself. So yeah. I HATE THEM.)

So, I decided to stop shaving for a bit just to see what would happen. And, well, not much happened. To be fair, it was winter, so the only time hair was ever actually visible was when I went swimming at the Ladies’ Pond, which is the least judgemental place I’ve ever been in my life. There are women in their 90s who’ve been swimming there every day for over 50 years and they couldn’t give a flying banana whether the other women there are shaving their legs or not, quite frankly. If you ever want to learn a lesson in Giving Exactly Zero Fucks then hanging out with nonagenarians who swim regularly in -0 degree water is a pretty good start.

As spring has drawn near and my shirtsleeves are getting shorter it’s got harder. I don’t really like the look of the hair under my armpits. To me it looks, well, kind of ugly. And knowing that this is decades of cultural GIRLS ARE NOT MEANT TO BE HAIRY isn’t going to just make me get the hell over that. If it was that easy to shrug off powerful media conditioning we’d all be much happier (and buy fewer things, and the beauty industry would pretty much vanish). But I was determined to persevere. And not only persevere,  but try to spread my message of STOP SHAVING THROW OFF THE HAIRY SHACKLES OF THE BALD LEG BEAUTY STANDARDS. Because if my friends all stopped shaving too I wouldn’t be the only hairy one. I started discussing it with other feministy friends and questioning their epilatory routines. I started questioning why women felt the need to remove their hair for OMG NO REASON STOP IT.

I started re-writing the lyrics of a certain Disney song to become a feminist anthem about binning your razors and depilatory cream.

Let it grow let it grow
don’t want to shave any more
Let it grow, let it grow
Slam the bathroom door!

I don’t care
What they’re going to say
about my skin
I’ll wear shorts anyway

Let it grow, let it grow
Think of the time I’ll save
Let it grow, let it grow

You’ll never see me shave

Here’s my hair
And here it stays

Razor in the biiiiiiiin

My skin never bothered me anyway!

YES WOMEN I was shouting. WE MUST ALL REJECT THIS NOTION OF HAIR FREE WOMEN AND EMBRACE OUR HAIR.

And then, a conversation with a group of friends stopped me in my tracks. (Which is probably for the best because That Song being in my head, no matter the lyrics, probably will actually drive me round the bend.)

One friend was talking about an incident where her son had been playing with hair on her toes, and how it had led to an exchange between her male partner and son where her partner said something along the lines of “Son, when you grow up, society will tell you that women are more attractive without hair, and you’ll have to think about whether you agree with that.” (He probably didn’t say it in James Earl Jones’ voice, and probably didn’t call his son ‘Simba’ at any point but that’s kind of how it ended up in my head). What I took from this conversation SHOULD have been “what an amazing supportive partner and father, how cool.” What I ACTUALLY thought was “toe hair? Women have…toe hair?”

A whole conversation ensued, right in front of me, about toe hair. About how one of my friends shaves her toes more often than she shaves her legs. How one friend’s boyfriend thought her toe hair was ‘cute’ and hadn’t met any women with it before and wondered whether that was because they always shaved it. One friend then mentioned the agony of tweezing out the hair from her nipples. Another about having an awkward conversation with her children about women and moustaches. Another saying that if she didn’t tweeze her chin hair, she could probably grow a full on Kung Fu Master beard within a month.

My mind had already been completely blown by the toe hair so the rest of this conversation rendered me speechless (and that almost never happens.)

As soon as I got home I took my socks off and stared at my feet. And then I stared at my lip and chin. And, yes, I also stared at my nipples. My nipples were bald as anything. My lip does have downy hair on it but so downy pale you can’t see them unless in a certain light. My toes did in fact have one or two wispy little hairs, but they were so white blonde that they were pretty much invisible.

As an argumentative opinionated sort, who generally thinks she has a good grip on this whole intersectionality business, it was rather a shock to be confronted with an example of my own complete lack of awareness or knowledge about what other women deal with.  The idea that ‘girls aren’t meant to be hairy’ message is incredibly powerful, and is not going to disappear over night, and it’s certainly not going to disappear with pale blondie soft downy haired types like me haranguing our more hirsute female friends into not shaving their body hair and making them feel bad about having it. Especially when as a pale blondie soft downy haired type I even caved last week and shaved my armpits because I had a new tattoo and needed to wear sleeveless dresses for a bit and didn’t want to go to work with hairy armpits.

It’s terribly easy for me to stop shaving as a ‘political statement’ because as a natural blonde, the hair on the parts of me that are hairy is pretty damn fair. I am not actually, when it comes down to it, really very hairy at all. I can swan around going YEAH EFF YOUR  BEAUTY STANDARDS but in the right light actually not really showing much of a deviation from those beauty standards in the first place.

My friends had inadvertently slapped me in the relatively hair free face with a privilege I didn’t even know I had. Blonde privilege perhaps? Follicle privilege? Whatever it was, I had it. And I’d never realised. That’s the thing about Privilege – the capital P kind – we don’t know we have it because it’s a Privilege. The important thing about Capital-P-Privilege though, is what we do about it once we realise we have it. And what I need to do is stop thinking that I am making a grand political statement about letting my wispy pale hairs blow in the breeze, and stop making other women who don’t have the luxury of wispy pale hairs feel bad if they want to remove theirs to help them feel better about themselves.

Sure, Let It Grow, if you can, and if you feel comfortable doing so. But if you don’t, that’s ok too.

Society will tell you that women are more attractive without hair, and you’ll have to think about whether you agree with that.


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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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Posted in feminism, my opinions let me show you them | Tagged , , , , , , , | 44 Comments