woman to woman: we need to talk

bullshit memeI didn’t have very many female friends as a young teenager. I didn’t have many male friends either, I have to say. A combination of moving around a lot and being pretty socially awkward and (with hindsight) not finding it easy to recognise people meant I found it hard to form close friendships. Or even casual ones. I was quite late into my teens before I found a group of friends (mainly thanks to Sir Terry Pratchett.)

When I DID meet this group of friends, it was largely boys from other schools (I went to an all girls school) with a smaller group of girls. When I went to university, again I struggled to make friends, and ended up hanging out mainly with a bunch of stoner dudes who thought it was hilarious to try and  get me to swear as I rarely used swear words (I blame them for how much I fucking swear now)

Most of my friends outside of university were also men. Guys in the band I was in, guy internet friends. I didn’t form many close friendships with women at all. I had a small number of close female friends, but I don’t think I ever talked about them about girl-stuff.

Looking back on this now, it’s pretty clear that I was a text book not-like-other-girls girl. I had internalised all this crap about what ‘girls’ are meant to be (pretty, ‘girly’, weepy, clingy, emotional, bitchy etc) and decided “that’s not me”. But instead of thinking “hey, not only is this not me, this isn’t actually my experience of other girls, maybe this is a load of crap” I clung on to the idea that my not-like-other-girl-ness made me special and different and cool and took it on as ‘my thing’.

I also internalised the idea, hook, line and sinker, that other women were my ‘competition’. That I should be comparing myself to the women around me. That my worth was based on my direct relation to the women around me. Is she thinner than me? Is she smarter than me? Is she funnier than me? I remember really clearly talking about a girl-friend of mine to another, describing BULLSHIT MEME her as “really pretty, slim, funny and so clever. And what’s really annoying about her is she’s so nice, you can’t even hate her”. I mean, what a fucked up sort of thing is that to say? That someone is thin and smart and pretty so they must be mean? Or they must be worthy of hate?

I didn’t of course realise I was doing all this. It wasn’t conscious. To be honest, I didn’t realise it until relatively recently. In the last year I’ve had some incredible conversations with women. About all sorts of things. About life, about ambitions, vaginas & cervixes. About periods, penises, toe hair, orgasms, babies and farting. About fears, panic attacks, growing up, parenting, and politics, and much, much more. Conversations I’ve never had with women before. I’ve seen moments where groups of women have discovered something going on with their lady parts is totally normal and something other women are experiencing and saying “god I wish I’d talked about this before. I’d have known it was normal.” I’ve been involved in all women action groups who’ve got together and made plans and achieved extraordinary things. There’s been none of this ‘bitchyness’ that one is lead to believe happens in women dominated or women only spaces.

In fact, if I look back at my time in a roller derby league, I can honestly say that any ‘bitchyness’ I saw was almost entirely a product of *perception* – an assumption, filtered through my own internalised misogyny, my own mistaken ideas of what ‘girls are like’. I saw as many disagreements and issues within male roller derby groups, but I never saw any accusations of bitchyness. Large groups of women aren’t any more ‘bitchy’ than large groups of men, and yet when large groups of straight men bicker and disagree and fall out, are they called ‘bitchy’?

Where do these ideas come from then, that we think that women are all bitches, competing with each other to be the prettiest or the thinnest or the best or the smartest; that we can’t trust each what the fuck is it with these fucking bullshit memes?other; that we can’t talk to each other or achieve things in large groups? Because when you let that go, when you say “actually, I think perhaps this might all be a massive pile of crap” and form links with other women and really start talking, the fact that it’s all complete bollocks becomes really obvious. I think it comes from all around us. I think it’s coming out of the godammed walls, man.

Women are told via TV shows, movies, women’s magazines, adverts,all these bullshit memes that people insist on sharing – all the media around us –  that other women are our competition, and that we can feel better about ourselves by tearing them down. We’re told we can’t trust each other. We’re told that we should be hating each other. That’s why women’s magazines (you remember how much I hate these, right?)  have ‘circle of shame’ features where famous women’s teeny tiny ‘imperfections’ are dissected in minute detail. Women are told that we should compare ourselves to other women’s bodies, their achievements, their lives. What this *actually* does is make us feel bad about ourselves, and impacts on our self-esteem (and then of course we buy more stuff to make ourselves feel better. Clever, right?) And if you are one of those people sharing these bullshit memes? Please, stop. Just…stop.

If I was a conspiracy theorist, I would wonder why so much media is built around making women think we can’t get on, and can’t work together, and are always in competition with each other all the time, and should all hate each other. Particularly after my recent experiences of getting involved with some all women groups and witnessing how much they can achieve working together when able to put aside that we’re allegedly incapable of doing so. I can’t help but think about the concept of ‘divide and conquer’ – if women hate each other they fail to unite and fight for equality.  I am not a conspiracy theorist, however, so I don’t think this is some big organised conspiracy of the patriarchy. Although it’s certainly true that the media has deliberately tried to influence women before; first to get them to stop being so girly and go get a damn job during the war, and then to get them back to the housework and stop thinking they should enjoy manly things like having jobs when the war ended.

seriously, STOP THIS BULLSHIT. I don’t, as you will already know if you’re a regular reader, subscribe to gender essentialist ideas; the idea that women are innately ABC and men are innately XYZ. I think that much of what we say are male/female traits are down to how we’re raised, what we experience, how people treat us and expect of us. But let’s for a minute think about those gender stereotypes – women are meant to be nurturing, caring, supportive, kind, and great communicators. If we are all these things, then why are we also meant to be huge bitches who all hate each other that can’t achieve anything when working together? EVEN IF you ascribe to notions of gender essentialism, it STILL DOESN’T MAKE SENSE.

And if you DON’T ascribe to notions of gender essentialism, and you recognise that individuals are all, well, individuals, with their own motivations and wants and needs and drives and ways of communication, then why would you make a sweeping judgement about other women? One that, if you think about it, simply doesn’t make sense, and is actually preventing you from forging powerful and meaningful friendships with other women.

What I’ve learned in the last few years is that if you can just drop the idea that other women are your enemies then you can open yourself to something really special. You can have really powerful intimate conversations with other women, and find out that these other women all have the same issues, concerns, worries, problems and fears as you, and rather than judgement and competition they can offer support, advice, love and care. You then also realise that you can offer the same in return.

Posted in feminism, my opinions let me show you them | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Not Not Drinking, just not drinking

231386085552BarneyWe’re now in May, so it’s now been 16 (and a half) months since I gave up drinking for, er, three months. While the initial 12 months of Not Drinking were trickier, the last 4 (and a half) months of just not drinking hasn’t actually been difficult at all – there’s definitely a huge difference between Not Drinking and I Could Have A Drink If I Wanted But I’m Not Going To.

I have had a few small sips of a beautiful hazelnut liqueur, a birthday present last year from Mummy Dinosaur Pirate, and I have tasted some organic Cider that my flatmate was drinking. That’s it. I’ve not had an entire alcoholic drink at all – and I am still not missing it much.

I recall six months in saying I wanted to get to the point with my attitude to drinking where I could walk into a bar, see an interesting looking drink that I wanted to taste, or liked the taste of, and would drink it because I wanted that drink and not because I wanted to get drunk, or needed to be drunk. While there have been a few moments where I’ve been out a pub with some friends and thought “I’d really quite like a drink actually” – most often when there’s been a nice looking rosé available or my favourite beer – there’smongozo_cocunut been two clear occasions where I’ve felt that I wanted to drink for the taste, for the experience – and not for the alcohol. It was a powerful sensation – to know that I  had the power to make that choice, to know that I could just  have one and that would be the end of it. To know that i could just as easily not have it, and have just as good a night. On both occasions I chose not to have one – mainly because I’d cycled to the pub and figured cycling home after the first alcoholic drink in 16 months would be, on the list of Stupidest Things I’ve Done, quite high up the chart.

My social life has definitely changed – whether this is due to the not drinking or circumstance (it’s been a crazy few months on Dinosaur Planet) I don’t know; but I go out dancing and to clubs, well, certain clubs, a lot less. There are some places which just aren’t really fun when you aren’t in an altered state. Where you are acutely aware of the state of the toilets, of the floor  being sticky, of a general sense of grottiness. A few clubs I’ve been to I’ve found the behaviour of other drunk people just a little hard to deal with. You start to recognise this unfocused look in people’s eyes, the way they stumble around the club and just sort of barge around or push through you like you aren’t there. I assume this happened before, when I went to these places as a heavy drinker, but that as I was one of them I never really noticed. Being around seriously drunk people does start to get harder, and so my social life has in the main shifted away from late night clubs and more into early evening pub trips with a pack of cards or a game of Fluxx or Love Letter.

The change to my social life pattern as also brought an interesting shift to many of my friendships. I have drifted apart from some of my old party buddies, and grown much closer to other friends. The quality of conversation, and your ability to really listen to people (and remember the conversation the next day) is considerably better, and some nights out have brought me closer to people I thought I knew, people I’ve known for years. There’s been many moments where I’ve been next to a friend in a bar, when previously our conversation would have been “LOL LET’S GET SHOTS OMG DO YOU REMEMBER THAT TIME WHEN WE OH GOD WE WERE SO WASTED” and I’ve said to them ” you know, I’ve known you for 10 years and don’t actually know what you do for a living?”

I’ve had marvellous conversations which have brought me closer to people I care about, and have learned how to tell these friends I care about them with full mindfulness and sobriety – i don’t have to be drunk to take a friend in my arms and say “mate, I love you. You know that?” and they know I mean it, and that makes it so much more meaningful. Even if they do get a little embarrassed and punch me on the arm and call me a knobhead. That’s just their way of saying “mate, I love you too.”

If I do go clubbing, I fortify myself beforehand with borderline unwise amounts of caffeine so I can survive the night; but usually once I am there and dancing alcohol just doesn’t seem important any more. My flatmate, a long time drinking buddy, has also discovered the joys of drinking considerably less of a night out. You still feel rubbish in the morning – today is no exception, as last night was in fact one of these rare clubbing adventures – but that’s mainly a combination of too much caffeine/sugar and too little sleep. It’s rather fun to feel a little wrecked occasionally, I do like the excuse to stay curled up in a blanket and watch terrible films and order pizza over the internet. And feeling a little wrecked due to overstimulation and fatigue is considerably more fun than feeling like if you move you might die.

16 (and a half) months without hangovers – and I cannot emphasize this enough – is FUCKING GREAT. I never want a hangover ever again. My time off from hangovers has given me a clarity that as much fun as drinking can be, it’s absolutely not worth the hangover.  Weekends are longer. You get so much more done with your life. The thing I miss least of all is that horrible sense of anxious foreboding and vague unspecified shame; where you are quite sure that you did something horribly embarrassing and that you are a terrible awful person who can never show her face again in public. I really don’t miss that. I hadn’t even realised that was a drinking/hangover thing. It took some time before I realised I wasn’t feeling like that every morning after a night before when the night before was a sober one. That waking up with waves of shame and fear wasn’t just part of waking up after a night out. I now wake up after a night out feeling like I probably should have drunk more water, less Cola and slept more, but that I had an awesome night and that my friends are awesome people and that as a person I am pretty ok actually.

tumblr_mkp8zkiay11s1txd3o1_500People  have asked if I miss drinking. My answer 6 months ago would probably have been that I don’t miss drinking, but I miss the sense of going on a shared journey with friends who are drinking. Now, I don’t even miss that, and am generally able to tap into that sense of fun an adventure without it. It helps that because I barely even mention it these days (it’s not new and exciting and a Big Experiment any more. I’m not a Not Drinker, I just don’t really drink. It’s a subtle difference, but a meaningful one) that often people don’t even really notice or pick up on it. Half the time I am clumsy and dorky enough for people to think I am drunk anyway. I am not entirely sure whether that’s meant as a compliment, but I am going to take it as one anyway.

What is most exciting is that at no point have I felt like I need a drink. Well, apart from briefly when I woke up on the 8th May and discovered the result of the UK general election, and had the fleeting notion that I needed to drown my sorrows – but I am pretty sure I am not alone in feeling that way and that for any lefty social justice warrior type finding out you’ve another 5 years of a right wing austerity mad government is perfectly justified in wanting to drink themselves into oblivion for a little while. But anyway, apart from that, I haven’t needed a drink, or felt like I had to have one. I’ve looked at drinks in the supermarket or at the bar and wanted a soft drink. I never dreamed when I embarked on this experiment 16 (and a alf) months ago. It’s rather wonderful and surprising.

I am fairly sure that at some point this summer I will have one of those coconut beers. It will be a momentous occasion.  My friends will probably take the piss. I will almost certainly selfie the moment for posterity. And it’s exciting that I am absolutely confident that I will be able to have one. Which is all I ever really wanted to achieve.

Posted in Drinking, Me Me Me, The List | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Election Special! Dinosaurs for Democracy

political_dinosaur_vote_web (1)I have been struck down with some kind of virus for the last few days; I am a highly efficient snot producing machine with a high temperature and razorblades in my throat. I’ve spent the last couple of days wrapped up in a duvet watching day time TV and generally feeling sorry for myself.

I am on the mend today, not 100% but definitely feeling more human and less like a swampy sweat monster from the planet catarrh. I hope I am not catching, as I had to vote.

I HAD to vote. Not legally, I mean. In the UK it’s not like in Australia where voting is compulsory; in the UK Voting is a democratic right, and you can choose not to vote.

But I think everyone should choose to vote. Especially women.

2015 marks the 97th anniversary of women in the UK being entitled to vote (although it would be another 10 years before women has the same voting rights as men). It also marks the FIRST TIME that women in Saudi Arabia are allowed to vote.

The right of women to vote has been hard fought for by passionate women who put their health and lives at risk so that future generations would have the right to have a say in who governs us.

I’ve heard some “excuses” as to why people might not vote this election and they disappoint me.  It’s a safe seat, my vote doesn’t matter. The polling station is in a really inconvenient place. I don’t like any of the candidates/parties. None of these are good reasons not to vote.

Sure, your seat might be a safe seat, but if every single person in your area who doesn’t think it’s worth it because it’s a safe seat turned up to vote, and they vote for someone other than the present incumbent, it’s not such a safe seat any more, is it? That aside, Every vote is counted, even in a safe seat. Every. Single. Vote. So even if it’s a landslide victory for the present incumbent, a huge rise in other votes gets noticed. Even safe seats can get a shock – but only if you go and vote.

I had to wander around looking for my polling station earlier, as my local borough had inconveniently given me the wrong address for my polling station. Annoying at the best of times, but when you are ill it’s not fun at all. But while I was voting, an old woman, unable to walk without a wheeled walking aid, arrived to vote. It took her several minutes just to walk from the gate to the polling station door. She was so exhausted, she had to rest while the poll station staff fetched her water. And then she left to walk home again. It must have taken her ages. But she came out and cast her vote because voting is important.

Don’t like any of the candidates? Spoil your ballot. It will count. And you will have voted. You will have attended the voting booth and sent a clear message that none of the parties represent you. If you really don’t want to vote for any of the candidates, don’t. Add a box at the bottom that says “none of the above” and put an X in it. Write NO TO EVERYONE across the paper. Draw pair of ovaries. Whatever. Just go to the polling station and get your ballot paper and commit your minor act of civil disobedience. It’s still more productive, and more empowered, than not voting.

Once I’d eventually found the correct polling station and was in the booth, I spent longer in there than I ever have in all my years of being old enough to vote (I am old enough for this to be my 5th General Election). Previous years I’ve known who to vote for and been confident enough to put my X in the box without a second thought. This year I’ve put more thought into my vote, and how to vote, and what my vote means. At the point where I stepped into the ballot box I  still hadn’t decided whether to vote purely on policy, to vote local, to vote as a protest, to vote with my heart, to spoil my ballot.

I don’t like any of the current political parties, to be honest. I don’t think any of them have 100% viable policies. I did the Vote For Policies test and was surprised to get 100% Green as the result; I don’t actually agree with all of their policies. I also don’t particularly like my local Green candidate. I DO like my local Labour candidate, a lot. I think she’s brilliant for the area, and for women. But a vote for her is a vote for Labour, and I no longer feel they represent my beliefs. I could vote for TUSC; their candidate impressed at a hustings I attended and as a public sector worker I am very much behind a no-more-cuts drive. I’m in a pretty darn safe Labour seat – my vote for any other candidate would be little more than a protest vote. I could draw a dinosaur on my ballot paper.

All of these options were open to me as I stood in the booth, running over all my options. I did make a decision. And the beauty of our voting system is that I am entitled to an entirely confidential vote. I don’t have to tell anyone what I chose. But I could choose. I was free to, and had the right to, make my choice about the government of my country.

Which way I voted, or what I did with my ballot paper, that’s far less important than the fact that I voted.

Whatever your political inclinations, whoever you think should win, whatever your reasoning behind what you put on that ballot paper – you should vote today. Because you can. And that’s a powerful thing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Consent: Not actually that complicated – Animated!

tea

A bonus blog day for a Friday, partly because I am away this weekend and don’t know if I’ll be able to have blogday as usual this weekend, and partly because I have been sent this awesome animation by Blue Seat Studios of my blog about tea and consent.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!



I absolutely love how simple the animation is, and that they kept it gender neutral.

There’s a common rhetoric that suggests that it’s always men making the tea and women drinking it, which is hugely harmful to people’s sexuality and to notions of consent within same sex relationships. It buys into a narrative which denies male rape – by both men and women. It buys into a myth that women aren’t sexual beings. It buys into the myth that men always want sex, or that an erection is consent. An erection is no more consent than a woman being drunk and unconscious is. As pretty much every teenage boy  ever discovers during puberty, male bodies can react in physical ways without reference to emotional desire. Erections can happen on their own, or in response to physical stimuli even if the man doesn’t actually want it to happen. In short, just because it’s up, doesn’t mean he’s up for it.

Reducing consent to [men asking / women accepting] also erases gay sexuality- where consent is obviously just as important. Men who do men need to make sure they are both up for what they’re doing. Women who do women need to make sure they’re both up for what they’re doing. And while you’re mid-coitus, if you’re engaging in different acts, you need to keep checking in that your partner (assuming you’re not super familiar with them already, that is) is comfortable. Or, to use the tea analogy, if you’ve both been drinking Rooibos, don’t suddenly hand them an Assam without telling them, or checking that they’re cool with Assam.

This is why I deliberately wrote the original blog  to be gender neutral, as consent affects all genders, all sexualities, all kinks, all activities. I love that the animation kept that neutrality.

Also I love they kept the swearing because seeing stick figures swearing is totally hilarious.

Edit 15th May 2015 – people have asked for a swearing free version for use with younger children – here it is :)


All comments are subject to moderation

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

Big Fat Body Acceptance

For the second week in a row, I have been diverted from my intention to muse on my drinking (or lack of it) by Things Happening That Are Making Me Want To Smash Other Things. This weeks’ OH FOR THE LOVE OF JUST FUCK THE FUCK OFFness comes courtesy of body shaming.

First Jamelia, vaguely-successful-pop-star-turned-panel-show-opinion-haver opinioned that having clothes available in sizes under 6 or over 20 just encouraged people to have unhealthy body shapes and that ‘they’ (‘they’ being people of a size Jamelia considers ‘not normal’) just shouldn’t be allowed nice things.

Then a company (whose name I am not going to mention, because they’ve had quite enough publicity enough thank you very much, and therefore will be referred to from now on as “Proper Wazzock”) responded to complaints about their (fucking awful) adverts for their (fucking awful) product by revealing themselves to be apparently staffed by the sort of people that say ‘bants’ without irony and run by White Goodman; engaging in a PR campaign based on name calling and bullying. Classy.

globogymgif

Jamelia did a half arsed #sorrynotsorry kind of apology where she basically said “I didn’t say what I said, and what I didn’t say wasn’t right, but I actually do kind of think what I didn’t say that I said.” I would have had considerably more respect for her if she’d said “I was on live TV, I said something without thinking it through, and I apologise”. We’ve all said shitty things and hurt people; when people call us on it it’s far better to use it as a learning experience than to go YOU’RE LISTENING WRONG.

Proper Wazzock haven’t issued any sort of apology and are absolutely revelling in the notoriety. Seeing as their entire business and product is based on capitalising on people’s insecurities as far as they are concerned this is the best thing ever; and if they can keep on making people feel insecure they obviously think this will help them sell even more. It might even work, sadly.

The thing is, ‘fatties’, as Proper Wazzock put it, don’t need to be ‘made to feel uncomfortable’, as Jamelia put it, by lack of nice clothes or a poster telling us our bodies aren’t ready for the beach.  Our society is very good at making them feel uncomfortable anyway. There are myriad ways in which our culture polices and enforced a very narrow range of ‘acceptable’ bodies.

We’re fighting against some really ingrained ideas that people are just not willing to let go of. NONE of these ideas actually hold up to proper scrutiny.

Fat = Unhealthy? MYTH.

Thin = healthy? MYTH.

You can predict someone’s health & fitness from BMI? MYTH.

Shaming fat people will help them lose weight? MYTH.

I played an amateur contact sport for 6 years. I went to the gym 3-4 times a week. I cycled every day. And I was still ‘fat’ because that’s what my body does. That’s my natural body shape. I was always over my ‘healthy’ BMI because I am short, and have a lot of muscle. When I was regularly training I had even more muscle, so my BMI was even higher. In fact, at my peak fitness, my BMI put me at ‘clinically obese’. I was, it’s safe to say, fitter than most of my ‘thin’ friends who just had a naturally slim figure and never worked out – some of whom smoked to stay slim. I no longer compete because playing sport destroyed my knees. Playing a sport, and exercising at the level I was, impacted on my physical health to the extent that a specialist assumed from an MRI of my knees that I was a runner in my mid 40s. I was 34.

Over a decade ago I went on a calorie controlled diet. I lost loads of weight. I started getting a body which the sort of person that thinks fat = unhealthy thin = healthy might look at and go She’s healthy. She’s acceptable. She’s allowed nice clothes. She might even be acceptable enough for a bikini. And I was SO ILL. My body couldn’t function at that size/shape. I was miserable. I kept fainting. My skin suffered. I was constantly ill with colds and infections as my immune system couldn’t cope. Everyone kept telling me how good I looked except my close friends who were seriously worried. I couldn’t maintain it without basically starving myself. I still thought I wasn’t good enough and I ended up having a major mental health breakdown, and I am not the only person to have discovered that despite what society tells us, becoming Not Fat isn’t the magical unicorn answer to everything.

Nowadays I am now relatively healthy. I eat what I like, try to avoid too much sugar and cycle and swim when I can be bothered. I am happy.  In the process of accepting my body something magical happened – many of my mental insecurities and anxieties melted away. In fact, learning to love the body I have now actually led me to eating more healthily. globogymBecause I loved my body I wanted to keep it well and treat it right. I started working with its needs, instead of against them. When I hated my body, I punished myself by starving it or resorted to comfort eating and ended up stuck in a cycle of self-loathing and unhealthy eating. I feel better now than I have in decades – and all because I have given up the idea that I need to force my body to look a certain way to be ‘acceptable’ and instead accept what I have.

In short, accepting my body the way it is actually made my body better.

When you go around on the internet telling fat people they look bad, or that they are unhealthy, or that they need to change their look to please you, you know what you are doing? You are making it worse. You are part of the cycle of self-hatred and fatphobia and insecurity. You are part of the problem.

Size is no indicator of health. You CANNOT tell the health of someone from what they look like or how big/small they are.  You especially cannot tell the health of someone from what they write on Twitter.

So will all the ‘concern trolls’ please DROP this ‘healthy’ shit. You can be thin and healthy, thin and unhealthy, fat and healthy, fat and unhealthy. And if someone is fat and unhealthy, guess what? THEY MIGHT STILL BE HAPPY and do you know what? It’s absolutely none of your business either way.

When I first saw Proper Wazzock’s advert I said “fuck off” at it, felt a bit cross and wondered – as I often do – why this sort of thing is still acceptable. But then it became clearer that actually tens of thousands of people were equally pissed off about it.  The wonderful #wearethethey hashtag appeared in response to Jamelia’s comments and it was beautiful to behold.

One of Proper Wazzock’s responses to the criticism was that “Getting ‘beach ready’ is not a new concept[…]It’s a fashion that is followed by millions  around the world when they look forward to their summer holiday.” They are right, it’s not a ‘new concept’. It’s an old one. The fact that so many people are no longer willing to buy into it shows that there is a clear cultural shift against sexist objectification, cultural body shaming bullshit and unethical advertising, and a rejection of big fat myths and restrictive standards of beauty. There’s a growing sense, particularly among young people, that this shit is actually not ok, and up with it we will not put.

Posted in Drinking, my opinions let me show you them | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

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.

Posted in feminism, my opinions let me show you them | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

“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.)

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Posted in feminism, my opinions let me show you them | Tagged , , , | 17 Comments