The Shouter – a poem

“Nice bum” he shouts. He can’t be older than 10.

I cycle on, to ignore as usual, but then

I stop. I turn. “What did you shout at me for?”

No reply, shifting eyes, shifting feet, mumbling, looking at the floor

a group shrug. The answer comes “dunno”

Another replies, bolder than the shouter “you know

girls like it when you shout at them innit.”

“I’m a girl, and I don’t like it.”

Surprise on their faces, disbelief,

I turn to go, to their visible relief

but the exchange follows me home in my head;

the sense of shame, concern, dread.

Who taught them that a women grown

knows less of her own

mind than they? I pay my rent, have a degree,

a group of kids barely three

feet high telling me “but you like it really”

after I’ve said that I don’t very clearly.

What are we teaching the boys of our world?

That it’s ok to shout at women and girls

because “they like it” even if they say they don’t

they say no but they mean yes even if they won’t

say it aloud.

Are we proud

of this nation of youths with a twisted and bent

understanding of the meaning of ‘consent’?

I want to ask these future men -

who shout at women and then

say it’s ok we want it that way -

Who taught them this was the way things are?

who told them that women are things?

Who told him that girls say no and mean yes

that girls are different, that a short dress

says more about her than the words

that she says?

In what ways

are our kids are learning  ‘facts of life’

in which women are sister, mother, wife

before they are people deserving respect

for who they are? Shouldn’t we expect

and want better?









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When you can’t sink another drink to give you time to think

Copyright Jeff Krouwel 2014It’s been a difficult week this week for the Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate. Difficult conversations have been had, and there are many changes ahead. There is no longer a Mr RDP. Well, there is, but he’s not Mr RDP any more. While this blog was always by definition very personal, being about my year of giving up alcohol and trying to change my life, it was never meant to bare to all the private lives of those close to me, so we’ll just leave it with this; that it is sad, that we are sad about it, but that it is the right decision for both of us.

I’ve done all the usual things one does when one goes through a breakup. I’ve updated my relationship status on Facebook and made a heartfelt public statement to all of our friends. I’ve had a bit of a cry. I’ve scoured gumtree for places to live and rightmove for places to buy and despaired over the cost of property in London. I’ve broken the news to my disappointed family. I’ve deconstructed all the problems with my little sister and with my best friend. I’ve eaten my entire bodyweight in ice cream and ordered takeaway for myself. I’ve made a break up playlist on Spotify and starting seeing hidden meanings in unlikely songs. I’ve listened to Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” on repeat. I’ve poured my heart out to the cat. The one standard break up thing I haven’t done is go out and get shitfaced.

It feels strange to be facing upheaval and change without being able to resort to getting drunk in order to have a few hours of oblivion, away from the reality of the situation. I don’t think I’ve ever been through a break up which hasn’t led to several bottles of wine and large numbers of cocktails and shots. Often all on the same night. Such importance is alcohol in our relationships that the pirate formerly known as Mr RDP has received huge numbers of offers to get him drunk in consolation, whereas I have received many commiserating that I can’t get hammered. A few even asked if I would abandon  my alcohol free pledge, or have suggested that if I were to go out and get trolleyed that it would be ok because it ‘wouldn’t count’ on this occasion.

I actually feel like facing this alcohol free is more of a blessing than a curse. I won’t have any mornings where I wake up with not only a skull crushing hangover but also the knowledge that I am a lonely single loser with no one to make me tea or stroke my head. I won’t have the horrible mind bending mood swings of a night out on the piss when one isn’t entirely emotionally stable. A night out drinking when you’re in a fragile state is not a reliable way to cheer you, or anyone else for that matter, up. You *might* get into a giggly state were everything is funny. You *might* dance like a complete banana to Generation X’s Dancing With Myself and feel pumped for the future. You *might* start dancing to Robyn’s Dancing On My Own and end up in  hysterical tears in the middle of the dancefloor. You *might* end up totally maudlin, crying all over your friends and ruining everyone’s night. That’s the thing with alcohol, it’s not a predictable panacea for your emotional ills. It’s ultimately a depressant; and while it enhances your mood in small doses if your mood is low to changeable in the first place all it’s going to do is make you feel lower and unstable. You then either face a hangover of apocalyptic proportions or you just keep drinking.

Whenever I look back over my old personal blog, particularly during the days when I was at my most mentally unwell, I am often struck by how important alcohol was to me, and how little insight I had into how it was trapping me in a cycle. So many posts about getting drunk and being hungover, interspersed with posts about my ongoing struggle with depression. I wonder now whether if I’d been able to escape the drunken high/hungover low cycle back then I would have faced my mental health demons sooner. I suspect not. I may have used alcohol as an escape from the relentless grind of my clinical depression, but my recovery was more down to a lot of therapy (most successfully CBT and then a few years later CAT) and several rounds of anti-depressants. Maybe some of my depressive episodes would have been less severe without the drinking, but my agoraphobia would have been worse as sometimes it was only the alcohol allowing me to leave the house. And yet it is pretty clear that on many occasions I dealt with hard times by trying to drown them. Breakups, fall outs, unhappy work situations and bereavements – all were propped up with drink. Whether that made them harder to deal with in the long run, or meant that I just avoided dealing with them at all, is a moot point. Drinking the problems away is not an option I have now.

To be in a position where even if I wanted to I couldn’t go out and drink until I fall on my face is actually very freeing. It means I have to face up to my situation fully present, fully mindful. Yes it means I have to face all of the difficult feelings this is going to bring up head on, but surely that can only  be a good thing in the long run.

I no longer need alcohol to leave the house, or to have a good time. I’ve learned how to have fun without it. Now I need to learn to weather the hard times without it. I suspect that this will prove much easier.


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all by my selfie

Actual result of a google search 10/8/2014

Actual result of a google search 10/8/2014

I have been taking ‘selfies’ since before there was a word for it. Well, there was a word for it. Well, two. It was called a ‘self-portrait’.


I think my first very own camera was a 9th birthday present. It was clunky, and simple, and it took square photos. Back then ‘digital’ described watches, and the only way to know what you were photographing was to peer through a tiny viewfinder. You had to take the pictures in to a shop to have them developed, and both film and developing was expensive, so I was usually careful about what photos I took. But in every roll of film developed you could guarantee that there would be at least one of my own face – either reflected in a mirror or carefully angled to try to catch my own face. A selfie. Decades before the ‘selfie’ became the ‘new trend’ that is destroying the very fabric of our society, I was taking them.

Even if you don’t buy into the idea that a self portrait is in any way the same thing as a selfie, you can’t really argue that a ‘selfie’ – as in a photograph you took of yourself – is new. People have been taking ‘selfies’ since at least the mid 19th century. Buzz Aldrin took one whilst in space in 1966.

People take selfies for all sorts of reasons. Like Buzz Aldrin, to demonstrate they were in a particular place at a particular time when something particularly awesome was happening. Maybe because they look ridiculous after a caught-in-the-rain incident. Maybe they just want a picture of their face on that day because they feel good about themselves. Sometimes  you want a picture of all of your friends, and you want all of you to be in it, and there’s no one around to take the picture. Wanting to record a moment in time is no more narcissistic now than it ever was – it’s just much more accessible, and easier to share. There’s no expensive film to carefully conserve, no processing fees. The only thing that’s ‘new’ is the ease with which we can record and share these moments.  To blame all of cultural ills on the recording and sharing those moments is ludicrous to say the least.

But that’s what the media would have us believe. Selfies are causing black cat homelessness. They are ruining your mental health – or are a sign of poor mental health. They are destroying your relationships. OH DEAR GOD they are TEARING APART OUR ENTIRE SOCIETY. PLEASE won’t someone think of the children??

That last link, with the disingenuous headline “Selfies ‘can fuel’ body image worries says Childline” caught my eye particularly. If you read the article, it’s very clear that the headline doesn’t remotely reflect what Childline say. What Childline say is that there is a clear and concerning rise in young children with serious body image concerns, and that this increases in warmer weather. It doesn’t specifically mention selfies at all other than sending lots of selfies in an attempt to seek validation could be seen as a symptom of low self-esteem. This is a COMPLETELY different thing to ‘fuelling’ low self-esteem.

A quick google reveals hundreds of articles across all sorts of media linking self-esteem and selfies and accusing this ‘new craze’ of having a direct relationship with poor self-image.

At the age of 9 I was into My Little Pony, Sylvainian Families and Jem and the Holograms. Makeup was something grown ups put on and sex was something animals did on nature programs and was to giggle at. I had no notion of being ‘too fat’, or unattractive, or needing particular clothes or shoes. I didn’t worry about crawling through brambles and getting twigs in my hair or mud on my shorts. Of course, back then we didn’t have the internet. And there weren’t magazines aimed at my age group full of pop heart throbs or sexy celebrities. We had Smash Hits but that was hardly a magazine aimed at the ‘pre-tween’ market (now, tween. THERE’s a word for something that didn’t exist when I was 9). I don’t recall starting to feel seriously bad about myself, my shape, my face or my weight until my teens when I started reading magazines such as Just Seventeen and More.

At the age of 29 (years before ‘selfie’ became a real word and at a time when people with LiveJournals were going ‘so what’s this ‘Facebook’ malarkey all about then?) I was working with young girls aged 7-10 as part of Girl Guiding UK. It was eye-opening how different it is to be 9 now than it was being 9 twenty years previously. One girl regularly cried and didn’t want to take part in fancy dress activities because she was ‘too fat’. Another confided to me that she was bullied because she ‘wasn’t pretty enough’. One spent an entire day on our first day at Brownie camp sulking with her hood up because we didn’t allow makeup or hair straighteners and saying she “couldn’t be seen without her makeup”. She was 8 years old. Another, a petite 9-year-old with dreams of stardom, regularly picked at her food and ate virtually nothing because “she needed to stay small to succeed in the business”. A girl guiding report carried out last year supported what I myself witnessed in my years as a Brownie leader. This report concluded that the girls were being influenced – not by selfies – but by media and advertising.

Any woman reading this will hardly be surprised to hear that girls are being affected adversely by media and advertising. To be a female human in our culture you cannot escape the messages that tell us daily that we’re too fat, too thin, our boobs are too small, our hair too short and not shiny enough, some of our hair grows  naturally where hair shouldn’t be and so on. But even if you aren’t surprised, you can’t help but be shocked to hear an 8 year old asking “does this make me look fat?”

Is it any wonder that the media will seize any opportunity to deflect the blame for the increasing crisis of self-confidence that is affecting young girls and boys? The media has a vested interest in keeping our attention as far away as possible from the true cause – a powerful and relentless series of messages designed to keep us consuming. We must keep buying these products as otherwise we’ll be fat/ugly/hairy/smelly and no one will love us. And while you’re buying those, look at these celebrities in these unattractive (unphotoshopped) poses? Doesn’t it make you feel so much better that these celebrities look fat and unattractive just like you? But look at this beautiful (photoshopped) celebrity! You should totally buy the same products because then you won’t be fat/ugly/hairy/smelly any more.

Maybe we accept this status quo – these relentless messages – as something that is just there. Part of our society. As adults, we know these images are photoshopped and we know that the media rhetoric is harmful – even if we’ve internalised it and struggle with our own self-esteem we still KNOW that those photos aren’t real. Children don’t have that understanding. They tend to believe what reality they are sold. They don’t know the difference between a photoshopped picture and a real one. We do. And even knowing that the fantasies we are sold by the media aren’t true, we still beat ourselves up about not being thin/pretty/hairless/scented enough. And if even we can’t escape that, knowing that it’s not true, then how will the children?

Not only are selfies not remotely ‘new’, they are not to blame for the increasingly poor self-esteem of children. What they are is a useful scapegoat for a media complicit in the manipulation of our self-image and our self-esteem.

I for one love a good selfie. I take one when I have a good hair day. Or when I’ve done my makeup particularly well. I take them when I feel good about  myself, and end up with a  record of a time I felt good about myself. This doesn’t damage my self-esteem; it’s quite the opposite. What can damage my self-esteem somewhat is articles telling me that my liking for having a nice picture of myself looking nice is narcissistic and vain. Because GOD FORBID I think anything good about myself.

People that feel good about themselves aren’t going to buy products to make themselves feel better, are they?

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baring body, baring soul

One of the things I have had to face up to over the months of sobriety is how much crap I am carrying around in my head. I suspect a large amount of the alcohol consumed pre-party was to drown out the voices telling me

  • You are too fat for this outfit
  • You’re not funny and have nothing interesting to say
  • You will say and/or do something irredeemably stupid and everyone will laugh at you

Much of the alcohol consumed at a party would then be used to cover up any stupid things I might be saying or doing.

  • Fell on my face? OMG I AM SO DRUNK.
  • Interpretative dance to ridiculous song, HAH MY GOD I WAS SO WASTED.
  • Got two people I know perfectly well mixed up or forget their names? FUCK DUDE I AM SO HAMMERED I CAN’T EVEN

When you haven’t got those I AM SO… excuses to fall back on, you have to learn to accept that the person who falls on their face, engages in interpretative dance with a pinecone to Total Eclipse of The Heart, mixes up the names of people you’ve known for years and makes an accent mimicry faux pas is JUST YOU. Not drunk  you, not someone so wasted they can’t Do Normal, but you. You are that scatty clumsy nerdy person on the dancefloor. Alcohol never made you do any of those things, alcohol merely gave you an excuse to absolve yourself of accepting responsibility to the daft/stupid/borderline potentially offensive things you’ve done or said.

All of the above examples happened yesterday. Blindsided by the lack of an excuse I had to just accept that I’d made a prat of myself. Standing there and taking that and going god, I am sorry, I am such a dork (mixing up of names) or I don’t care this is hilarious I am having a great time (pine cone interpretive dance) is actually incredibly difficult.You have to accept that you are at best an extemely silly person,  at worst thoughtless and not being mindful enough of the people around you. I am not surprised that more than half of my life I have found it easier to blame the booze. How many times in my past have I pleaded the percentage proof when actually I  haven’t really been that drunk at all? When did it get to the point that I would start drinking in advance, before I’d even done anything ridiculous, just so that if/when I did do something ridiculous I would have an excuse?

I also start to wonder – how many other things in my life do I avoid because tackling them head on is just too hard? Things that getting drunk can’t ‘resolve’ or excuse?  As discussed last week I am a terribly avoidant person who will go to extraordinary lengths to Not Do things I need to do. Even things I actually WANT to do get put off for all sorts of reasons. For all of the things that couldn’t be resolved by getting really drunk and doing them, well I just didn’t do them at all, and occasionally came up with vague excuses as to why. Wanted to learn BSL for years? Mumble mumble can’t afford it mumble. Want to learn to sew? Mumble mumble what if the needle goes through my thumb mumble. Want to get back into singing? Mumble not really that good at singing can’t read music mumble.

For years I have avoided swimming – not because I can’t swim, but because I have long term insecurities over my body and being seen in public in a swimming costume. Instead of, you know, just getting the hell over this and going swimming, I mumble mumble don’t have a swimming costume mumble. And never bought one on purpose so I could keep using this excuse. And yet – almost entirely down to a growing awareness that most of the things holding me back are my own excuses in case I make a pillock of myself – I found myself earlier this week standing on the edge of a pond, in public, in a brand new swimming costume, preparing to jump into water of an unspecified depth containing god knows what, in order to Do Swimming.

It doesn’t sound like a huge achievement: “This week I went swimming”. But for someone who found regular school swimming lessons like some sort of teacher sanctioned water torture and who only ever felt comfortable doing doggy paddle; who has such a curvy figure that a swimming costume which fits at the top cuts off all circulation below the waist (and conversely if it fits below the waist is dangerously indecently impractical at the top) and who tends to spend beach holidays almost entirely covered up sitting under an umbrella with a book, who until recently has refused to wear shorts because her legs ‘aren’t good enough’? This was HUGE.

My swimming strokes were tentative at first, but the water was temperate, the surroundings beautiful and serene, the other swimmers considerate and friendly. There was no sense of voyeurism or body shaming. There were birds drifting around peacefully, unconcerned by my damp flailing, and there were even flocks of parakeets swooping around the trees thar bordered the pond. I didn’t swim a huge distance – around 400 meters – but for someone who hasn’t swum for quite possibly longer than they’ve been getting drunk (and let’s face it, in the Definitive List Of Things You Can Do While Drunk Because Alcohol Gives You Confidence,”swimming in a pond” didn’t even make the shortlist for very good reasons) it felt like an enormous achievement. No one laughed at my body or was offended by the sight of if. I was in public, in a swimming costume, and nothing bad happened. I didn’t fail at anything. No excuses even needed to be made. And it was fun.

Until the start of this year when this big booze and blog experiment began much of my life was a list of “I want to X but I can’t because Y” where Y wasn’t so much a reason not to do X as a way to absolve myself of responsibility for doing X because I was just too scared of failing, or of not having an excuse for failing. I don’t know what I was expecting at the start of this journey in January, but I wasn’t expecting to be confronting so many aspects of my life – including my own issues with my body.

I am not sure if I would have been able to get into a swimming costume and into that pond were it not for my growing ability to just be me, in the present, in the moment, without a shield of false confidence, an alcoholic aura or handy excuse ready – and that has all come from my (so far) 7 months of sobriety and weekly blog based soul baring. The feeling of walking out of a changing room into a public space wearing just a swimming costume, baring myself and my flaws was terrifying; but wasn’t actually any worse than bearing my innermost thoughts on a weekly basis to the entire internet, or standing completely sober in a room with people crying with laughter at my name-confusion faux pas and having no excuse for it other than my own ridiculousness.  And just as I am starting to be OK with my body, I am starting to be ok with my own ridicousness.

Posted in Drinking, i am a disaster area, Me Me Me, The List | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment


Today is the first post-birthday-party-Sunday in more than 20 years where I have woken up without a hangover. Every birthday I’ve had since I was old enough to  have friends with fake ID has involved significant amounts of alcohol. The venues of my birthday parties over the years have varied, but the plan has not.

1 – go to a place were we can drink

2 – drink

3 – drink

4 – drink

5 – ????

6 – where are we?

7 – how the hell did I get home and whose are these shoes? where’s my phone?

8 – oh god someone kill me

If back in January you would have told me that here I’d be in July, not only having a completely alcohol free birthday celebration but genuinely enjoying it and not even missing booze I’d have probably said “Hi, I’m the rockstar dinosaur pirate, we’ve clearly not met before.” And yet here we are, the Sunday after the party before and I feel a little sugar drained and sunburnt, but otherwise free of the usual symptoms of the day after my birthday; vomiting, a tiny person in my head trying to work his way out through my eyeball with a pickaxe, a sense of unspecific dread and shame and a wholehearted wish that I was dead. Of all the many upsides of not drinking, not being hungover is right up there.

The chosen venue for the celebration was a park, in beautiful sunshine. One of the advantages to having a summer birthday is that, British weather wiling, you can have picnic birthdays. I love picnic birthdays. They can start as early as you like, people can drift in and drift out meaning you get to see lots of people all day, they are entirely suitable for friends with pets and children and you can eat all day. Previous birthday picnics have generally involved large quantities of Prosecco and pre-mixed vodka and lemonade. This birthday involved a few bottles of sugar-free bitter lemon drink. Rock and roll? Perhaps not; but I am long passed the stage now of worrying I won’t have fun if I don’t drink and passed the stage of my friends thinking  that I HATE FUN because I am not drinking. A glorious 7 hours were spent in the sunshine with a glorious group of friends and there wasn’t one single moment where I felt I was missing out in any way because I wasn’t drinking. Quite the opposite, in fact. As I left, feeling perfectly stable if a little sun bleached, I had a flashback to previous journeys home after birthdays; wobbly, sick, with patchy recollection of the evening, a sense of bad decisions made. In fact, occasionally accompanied by bad decisions.

Many a Sunday plan has been cancelled due to my failure to exercise any sort of restraint at my own birthday celebration, and my peer group’s general understanding (one I’ve always bought into myself) that the key aim of any birthday person is to drink until you fall over.

On the plus side, those dreadful Sundays were also a good excuse for indulging in guilty pleasures. Bringing the duvet into the living room to watch hangover movies (I favour Disney, 80s movies and Clueless/Legally Blonde types), ordering greasy pizza – maybe even two, eating an entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s. Not getting dressed at all, unless you count maybe changing into pyjamas which haven’t been subjected to the hangover sweats.

As a lifetime procrastinator, despite my enjoyment of an entirely sober birthday picnic, I am missing the opportunity to absolve myself of the requirement to do anything at all today. Having an apocalyptic  hangover is one of the best reasons to Not Do Things. Being entirely hangover free  means you have no excuse whatsoever, and the old “but it’s my birthday weekend” doesn’t wash too well when your birthday rather inconveniently falls mid-week so technically it isn’t really even your birthday yet.

So I woke up this morning knowing that I had to do my blog, tidy the house & revise for my BSL exam and spent the first 4 hours pottering about, watching the Commonwealth games and playing Words with Friends with my Mum. (She’s winning.) It says a great deal about my ability to procrastinate when the only options on the TV for Glasgow 2014 were Lawn Bowls, Shooting and Netball and I STILL WATCHED IT FOR TWO HOURS instead of doing anything of practical value.

I am always impressed by people who have a thing to do, and do it straight away and then get on with other stuff. I’ve always been the most dreadful procrastinator, never one for doing something  – even if it’s something I actually rather want to do – if I can possibly put it off til tomorrow. Even with all the best of intentions, every essay I ever handed in at university was completed at 4am after pulling an all-nighter, having spent 24 hours crying in front of the computer screen, mainlining Cadbury’s mini eggs swearing blind that next time, NEXT TIME I am going to do this essay properly and have it finished before the deadline. Much like “I am never drinking again, and this time I mean it” those promises fell flat at the very next deadline.

I may have made some real changes this year but the one demon I’ve yet to tackle, and am not even sure how to go about tackling, is my procrastination habit. It seems to me that some people find just getting on with things terribly easy, while others (like your truly) will go to quite extraordinary lengths to put things off – doing things I really don’t want to do to avoid doing other things I don’t want to do but which are actually more important. If you find yourself doing the laundry to avoid revising for an exam, you have to admit you have a problem.

Are you a procrastinator? Or are you a Just Get On With It type? If you have any tips for a chronic putter-offer, then I would love to read them. Right after I’ve done this other thing.


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Dinosaurs for Feminism

This week my attention was drawn to a Facebook group that made me so angry I had to listen to loud music and punch a cushion to prevent all of the crockery in the flat being smashed to bits and my fist going through my laptop screen.

The Facebook group in question was Woman Against Feminism. Yes, women who are against feminism. They have all sorts of reasons for  being against feminism.

They don’t need feminism because “I don’t need to grow out my body hair to prove I am equal  to men” (to which I would respond, you are right! you can shave, or not. I often chose not to, but wear shorts anyway, because I don’t need to have hair free legs to feel beautiful. Sometimes I do shave if I feel like it. But don’t feel I have to. Because Feminism.)

They don’t need feminism because “My children are not a punishment, cooking for my husband is not oppression, I don’t whine hysterically until people buy me stuff” (to which I would respond that’s awesome that your children bring you joy and you like cooking for your family! It would also be awesome if you wanted to go to work, or if your husband wanted to cook for you. And you should totally have the right to do either. Or both. Without judgement. And in some countries, you can. Because Feminism. Um. you’ve kind of lost me on the buying stuff bit though. I am not sure what that has to do with feminism. But well done on not whining until people buy you stuff. I guess.)

They don’t need feminism because “Being a stay at home wife is my choice, [...] oppression doesn’t exist in my country (Australia)” (To which I would respond choices are cool. I love that modern women can make these choices in countries like Australia. Because Feminism. Also, there’s no oppression in Australia? Amazing! I also hear it’s completely free of poisonous fauna.)

I assume that the majority of my readers are fully able to appreciate the irony of young women rejecting feminism because they are “free“.

As I read through the posts on this group I became increasingly confused. It was clear that many of the women on this page actually were feminists – in the literal sense of the word. They all seem to hold the belief that women should be allowed the same rightspower, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way.

What I realised, as I scrolled through this community (which currently has almost 10k likes), is that these women aren’t against the literal meaning of Feminism. They aren’t against equality, or even the fight for equality. What they are is confused about what feminism means in a wider context. Perhaps confused isn’t even the right word – maybe misled would be better. The common thread through the posts on the community is a powerful narrative that feminists want women to be unfemine, to reject men, to oppress men, and that feminists want to tell other women what to think.

The first rebuttal piece I read about this community was written by Laurie Penny – a writer that I admire very much, who I count amongst my inspirations,  I usually enjoy her writing, usually agree with her politics, and usually think she puts her point across very well. However I found her open letter, entitled “Dear Women Who Don’t Need Feminism” almost more frustrating than the community itself. It was a very passionate piece, which did make some good points, and I could hear her anger and frustration, and I could almost feel her sense of rejection. I understand it too; when you’ve spent much of your life devoted to furthering the cause of women in an unequal society and receiving abuse from all sides and then you find a community of young women rejecting that? Ouch.

And yet, I could also see a younger me in those comments on the community. A younger me who had misunderstood the meaning of the term ‘feminist’, who had actually said out loud that she was not a feminist but an “equalist”, who had made a joke about feminist being bitter man haters, who burned bras and didn’t shave and sang protest songs naked in the park. A younger woman who’d believed that women were equal, but that feminists were all man hating crazy people. That was me. Yes, I had an epiphany after one too many times being cat called and groped in public, but it took a lot of time and a lot of kind and patient friends who encouraged me to learn more about feminism. An impassioned cry as Penny’s open letter is, it’s also passive aggressive and incendiary, and to young women who think feminists are angry women who want to tell them what to think all it’s going to do is push them to reject feminism further.

One of the posts on the community caugt my eye in particular:

They don’t need feminism because “feminism has become confused with misandry which is as bad as misogyny

The association of “Feminism” with “man hating” is problematic, and not new. But I would suggest that when a word starts being used in a negative way, it’s more important to re-appropriate that word than to reject the entire concept. See also  gay, queer, tree-hugger, dork.

Feminism has a long history of backlash. 30 years ago some claimed that we were ‘post feminism’ – women had jobs and the vote and choices and birth control. WHAT MORE DID THEY WANT? Well, the clue is in the definition. Feminists want equality. And the interesting thing about the rejection of feminism is that there have been waves of rejection of feminism – and there’s a common theme to these waves. Each time there’s a wave of backlash, it tends to precedes a sea change – a significant shift in the freedoms and rights of women.   Susan Faludi, who wrote a book all about this exact subject in 1991 argued  that “the anti-feminist backlash has been set off not by women’s achievement of full equality but by the increased possibility that they might win it. It is a pre-emptive strike that stops women long before they reach the finish line.”  This is where terms such as ‘feminazi‘ arise from; they arise from fear that actually, we might have a point, and we might actually be having an impact. And the best way to derail that is to be dismissive, critical, and paint feminism as something unhelpful and harmful – or as ineffective and irrelavant. The best counter-attack to this is to be clear what feminism is, and isn’t.

Feminism isn’t a political party with a manifesto. It’s not a religion, with a clearly defined set of beliefs.  It’s a movement, an ever-changing and enormous movement, made up of millions and millions of people with different beliefs, backgrounds, goals and agendas. Some feminists have opinions I profoundly disagree with. Some feminists are risking their lives for standing up for equality. Some feminists are men. Not all feminists are intersectional, but they should be. One feminist doesn’t, and shouldn’t, speak for all feminists, or for all women. The one thing that all feminists have in common is that they ALL believe that everyone is equal, and deserves to be treated in the same way, and that right now women are not equal to men.

Feminism will always have to battle on two sides. Feminism will have to battle a society which is demonstrably unequal. Feminism will also have to battle misunderstandings of what feminism is. But I take heart from Faludi’s words, that the greater the volume of the backlash the closer we are to a result.

I am not overly concerned about the ‘women against feminism’ Facebook. 10k likes isn’t that large, when you compare it to, say, a stop violence against women page which has 37k likes. Or Dogs against Romney which has 100k. It’s also clear, when you start reading the comments, that there are an awful lot of men on there promoting MRA groups, and that immediately makes me suspicious and doubtful. It’s also clear that the women on there are largely young, relatively financially secure, mainly white, attractive, able bodied and straight. When you have this many advantages it can be harder to see why feminism may be relevant.

To those women I say – awesome. You are lucky. And you have freedom to reject feminism.By all means reject feminism because it’s not relevant to you. But don’t ever think that means that it is irrelevant.  And if you want to know more about why most of the reasons you think you don’t need feminism are actually excellent reasons why you do, then I’ll be here, happy to discuss it with you, just as I had kind patient people prepared to discuss it with me in 2007, even though I had, at the time, implied that they were bitter man hating penis oppressing harpies.

I can’t respect your choice to reject feminism, but I uphold your right to do so (because feminism). But what you don’t get to do is tell other women (and men) who DO need feminism that they are wrong to do so. Because to deny those women (and men) their choice to continue to fight for equality that makes you just as bad as the feminists you are rejecting.

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“Ornithoscelidaphobia” is the fear of dinosaurs.

Pointing out to someone with ornithoscelidaphobia that it is completely irrational to be scared of dinosaurs because they have been extinct for 65 million years isn’t going to elicit the response “oh really? Brilliant, thanks, I will stop being scared of dinosaurs now that I know”.

Because the whole point of a phobia is that it is irrational overreaction.  It’s an extreme state of fear, and hard to control. It’s not being ‘a bit scared’ of something the way you would be perfectly rational to be scared of say, a lion should you find yourself directly face to face with one. In which case you should probably be more than a bit scared, but you get my meaning.

I don’t have Ornithoscelidaphobia, although I did have some recurring nightmares which were pretty frightening after I saw Jurassic Park when I was 14. I do have a lot of friends with arachnophobia – which in the UK  isn’t particulaly rational. We have no spiders that can give you anything worse than a mild infection, and even then only if you’re really unlucky. I rather  like spiders. They eat wasps and any creature that eats wasps gets a big thumbs up from me. Not that I  have ‘spheksophobia’ either; although Mother RDP has a potentially fatal wasp allergy which means I just really hate the fuckers. A friend of mine has ‘coulrophobi’a – the fear of clowns – which is surprisingly common.  Perhaps too many of us read/saw It at a formative age. (n.b. for the love of god don’t follow that link if you have coulrophobia)

‘Trypanophobia’ is my monkey. I am terrified of injections, blood tests and having a drip/cannula. While they all come under the same heading, I think of them as quite different fears, as they come from different bad experiences.

On my ninth birthday I was bitten by a dog while in france. This led to my having to have a tetanus injection, delivered into my arse by a non English speaking doctor who with little ceremony or kindness threw me onto his lap and jabbed the needle in my backside, in full view of my Mum’s boyfriend at the time, who I barely knew. (Perhaps this isn’t exactly how it happened, and perhaps this is how my 9 year old scared  brain interpreted it or remembers it, but it was enough to give me The Fear thereafter.) When I was 13 my entire school year was given the BCG. I warned the  nurse that I had difficulties with injections. She was kind but businesslike – after all she had 60 odd injections to do that day – but something went wrong and the syringe cracked as the injection was given. Some of the fluid sprayed into my eye and the nurse freaked out and jumped back, letting go of the syringe and therefore leaving it hanging out of my arm.  While I find injections really difficult, I  can generally manage my fear response. I don’t freak out, or scream, or faint, but I do have to do mind over matter breathing exercises and need somewhere quite to sit for a little while after. It helps that  bar those two bad experiences I  haven’t had a disastrous injection incident since.

Blood tests are a completely different matter. I have no single bad experience with blood tests, or cannulae. They are ALL AWFUL. I have never had a blood test that hasn’t been painful and traumatic. I  have ninja veins. Nurses will spent ages getting me to clench my fists, tying and retying tourniquets, smacking my arm, sighing, giving up, smacking the backs of my hands, sighing, saying “it’s ok why are you so worried?” whilst looking suspiciously concerned at the lack of visible veins. I’ve experienced on more than one occasion a delay while the most experienced person in the hospital is summoned to come and take the blood/put in the cannula  instead. That’s before we’ve even got to the matter of my slow blood pressure. (If I am really really stressed, it goes up to what could be considered normal. When I was in the midst of depression I’d have these weird moments where it was like my body couldn’t actually produce enough blood flow to keep me upright, I’d feel a bit headswimmy and then bang I’d be out cold on the floor.) So once they’ve managed to find the vein and the ‘just a little pin prick’ (FUCKING LIES) has taken place I then have to contend with the sounds (I can’t look, I am too busy trying to remember how breathing works) of them trying to get blood out of me. Or fetching someone else to do it. All while being acutely aware that they are actually now hurting me, and I am getting more and more distressed.

All this considered, I actually think I handle myself relatively well. I cry, sure, and I find it hard, but I don’t have a massive freak out and I actually go and have the damn things done in the first place.

I always warn them in advance. “I have a phobia, I probably won’t faint, but I will probably cry a bit, and it’s really hard to get blood out of me, but please just get on with it and I’ll get on with staying conscious”.

What makes it really difficult is the inevitable reaction of the hospital staff when they see I have tattoos. This immediately invalidate my warning. Apparently, it’s COMPLETELY IMPOSSIBLE for me to be scared of blood tests/injections because I have tattoos.  But that’s like saying “You don’t mind lizards. Whyare you afraid of snakes?”.  Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE  COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THINGS.

With my medical history, I’ve had many, many blood tests. I had to have 7  just last week. I think they got enough blood for 5, and that was after 20 minutes, taking blood from both hands, and leaving me with a hematoma in one hand. The three medical professionals that ended up involved with this marathon blood testing session all failed to take me seriously when I said I had a phobia. One ended up in tears herself, and one was incredibly rude to me, repeating over and over again that I had tattoos as if that would somehow make my fear vanish. Oh, you’re RIGHT! Dinosaurs ARE extinct. How silly. Oh YES! I AM much bigger than the spider, and it probably IS more scared of me than I am of it. Of COURSE! Most clowns AREN’T homocidal manicacs! Great, thanks, my fear has immediately vanished and I am now cured.

In all my years of having injections and blood tests there have only been two medical professionals that haven’t said this. You know what they both had in common? TATTOOS.

However irrational a person’s phobia may be, telling them to ‘suck it up’ or ‘just get over it’ isn’t going to help. Nor is pointing out the irrationality of their fear. All you are doing then is belittling the person, who might be sitting there looking at a picture of a clown and using every breath and every muscle and every beat of their heart trying to control the impulse to scream, cry, freak out or faint. Telling that person that they are being ridiculous is the least sensitive thing you could possibly do – and partly because THEY KNOW they reaction is over the top, and they are embarassed about it, and are using all their emotional reserves to control it.

Even if someone’s phobia seems ridiculous to you, remember that we’re all scared of something. If you are ever confronted with a person having a freak out over something you think is really dumb, just try to put yourself in their position. Imagine yourself confronted by your biggest fear. And just say, hey, it’s ok to be scared. Keep breathing, and you’ll get through this.

And if that person has hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, pick your words carefully…

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