Culturally inappropriate

Halloween has been and gone, and with it, the annual discussion over inappropriate costuming. Each year, the discussion gets a little louder, a little clearer. Each year the people going “this is not ok” grow in number, and the angry people who want to wear whatever they like get a little more angry and defensive.

not a costume MexicoI have to admit, when I first came across the “culture, not a costume” campaign, I rejected it. I was like “oh come on, it’s just a COSTUME. It’s just Halloween. It’s just a bit of fun”. I thought on it, and I started to realise that me saying “it’s just a bit of fun” about someone doing fancy dress of another person’s culture is uncomfortably close to a man telling me that street harassment is “just a compliment.” And “harmless” and “just how men are.”

I know what it’s like if I as a woman I talk to a man and tell him of sexism I experience, it’s deeply frustrating, upsetting and often offensive when he tells me that my experience of sexism is invalid or wrong. As a white British person, with all the privilege and baggage that brings, I need to apply the same understanding when someone of another culture goes “Mate, this is not ok. Actually I am uncomfortable about this. Please can you listen?”

I’ve been a bit wary of speaking out about Cultural Appropriation for two reasons. One: I’m white and I don’t want to talk over non-white voices.  Two: there because there is no other topic more likely to cause Big Rows amongst friends and loved ones, and I find it hard work to be at odds with people with whom I am used to finding common cause. But I have not written for a long time, this as been buzzing around in my head for an even longer time, so perhaps it’s time for me to try to set down  how I feel and what I try to do as a privileged white British person when it comes to cultural appropriation, and perhaps next time there’s a Big Row about it I can just copy and paste this instead of having the same Big Row forever.

So. Cultural Appropriation. What is it? Basically, no one can quite agree. If you google it you’ll get all sorts of different interpretations, and all sorts of questions over what it is. Is THIS cultural appropriation? Is THAT cultural appropriation? Is it still appropriation if I REALLY LIKE it?  Is it still appropriation if everyone is doing it?

I think one of the reasons there is so much confusion is simply because cultural appropriation is not simple. It’s really complicated. The concept of “culture” is complicated. I think it’s especially problematic for us white British people because of our Colonialist/British Empire history we’re so used to seeing a culture we like and just taking it without reference to how the people of that culture may have felt. That’s why I think it’s really important that we consider our actions in the light of being privileged to be able toI couldn't find the artist to credit. If this is yours, please tell me. pick and choose what cultural aspects we like/desire.

A friend of mine is from Mexico. Every Halloween she endures people co-opting her cultural heritage for their costume.  She’s been getting increasingly frustrated at the growing number of people each year using Dias de La Muertos imagery – Calavera  in particular – in the Halloween costumes. She said she feels like she can’t even use imagery from her own culture because “everyone else is doing it”.  At this point, I must confess to doing a “sugar skull” makeup on myself years ago. I am not going to try to defend it. It was for my friend’s band’s gig on the Day of the Dead itself. I have long admired the imagery of Dia. I’d done a little reading. I thought it would be fun and that I’d look pretty. This, people, is the very essence of appropriation. I was using the imagery of someone else’s culture, of a country I’d never been, because I thought it “looked pretty”. I could kid myself that it wasn’t cultural appreciation, because I “read about it” and “I really want to go to Mexico some day”; but no. Really. If you are literally just taking one aspect of someone’s culture, something of cultural, religious and historical significance, and you are taking it just because you think it’s pretty? That is cultural appropriation. Pure and simple. Sorry, but it is. I was using something that was not mine, purely to satisfy my own self-expression.

I do love Mexican culture; it fascinates me. I really would like to go there. I love Mexican art. The history of Mexico is fascinating. None of that gives me the right to use the imagery for my own personal satisfaction.

The internet and social media have been both a blessing and a curse for cultures subject to appropriation. There is so much greater access to information and resources that more people can access other cultures easier than ever before. And the more the (white) mainstream know about a culture, the more likely they are to want to use it and to see it as their right to use it. And yet, that same social media is what is enabling marginalised voices that have been unheard for years going “this is not ok” to be heard.

It’s an interesting paradox; as minority voices become louder and their culture becomes more visible, the mainstream moves from ignoring or suppressing minority culture to appropriating and homogenising it and calling it “appreciation”.

Image Credit: Sara Alfageeh

Image Credit: Sara Alfageeh

Where is that line between appreciation, personal artistic references and actual appropriation? I still haven’t worked it out. I reckon most of us haven’t worked that out – and that’s fine. Because it’s still such a new topic, such a new concept, that it’s ok, and reasonable, that none of us have the answers. What’s important is that we’re asking the question in the first place. That we’re going “is this cultural appropriation?” and listening when someone says “uh, I kind of think it might be”. The fact that the debate is even happening is important – as this wasn’t a conversation people were having in the mainstream ten years ago.

But once you start asking that question, you find yourself asking it all the time. For example you could argue that the whole history of tattooing is cultural appropriation. What about if you go on holiday to South Africa and you buy a shirt in a beautiful African tribal print, made by a woman of that tribe, selling it at a market in order to support herself and her family, Is THAT cultural appropriation? Personally, I would say no. Now, if you walked into, say, H&M or American Apparel and see some £40 leggings with a facsimile of an African tribal print? I would say that probably IS cultural appropriation. That’s a big corporation directly profiting from artefacts of a marginalised culture. But then that’s my answer, and I am a white British woman, is it my place to say what is appropriation of African culture and what isn’t?

I have a Day of the Dead skull box my friend gave me. It’s really cute, pink & purple & sparkly. She bought it for me because she knows I love pink and purple and sparkles and skulls and Mexican imagery. But it’s from Claire’s Accessories. Ten years ago I would have bought it for myself without a second thought. Nowadays, when I look at it, as cute as it is, I can’t help but feel that it’s not right for Claire’s Accessories to be profiting off an item which is ripping of another culture’s sacred event.


Amandla Stenberg (Hunger Games)

My perhaps rather simplistic take on it is that if you really enjoy a particular culture and their artwork, then you make sure you purchase art/items/fashion from someone of that culture, rather than buying similar tat from, say, Claire’s Accessories who have just ripped off cultural designs for profit (and actually have a rather suspect history of ripping off other designers work, too…)

So if you care at all about the concept, and if you believe that cultural appropriation is actually A Thing and one you would like to try to avoid it, how can you go about it, when what cultural appropriation even is is so hard to define and capture?

Questions that one needs to ask oneself, before one engages in a practice or uses images or elements which originate from culture, are:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • Do I understand the cultural significance of this ritual or practice and does my engaging in this practice for my own personal desire infringe on elements of that significance?
  • Is this profiting someone of the culture, or is someone not of the culture profiting by use of their cultural elements?
  • Does this actively contribute towards increasing harmful stereotypes or oppression of this culture or its people?
  • If someone of this culture asks me about it at a later point, what is my answer?

I’m not “scared” of buying things or of taking inspiration from other cultures. At the same time I want to respect other cultures by not consuming goods or products which have been ripped off of other cultures, or using something which has significance to an oppressed minority just because I think it’s cute. I am certainly not down with personally benefitting from something while simultaneously participating in an activity which oppresses others.

I can’t defend my Dias makeup, or my tribal tattoos (which are in the process of being covered up by something much more personal.) I didn’t know any better. Now I do know better, and know that as a product of a white dominant former empire I have a responsibility to consider carefully before I consume or borrow from another culture, to not allow companies or organisations to profit from oppression or cultural appropriation, and to be considerate and thoughtful rather than getting angry and defensive when someone says “Mate. This is not ok.”

Further reading:

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What do rapists look like

look like everyone elseConsent has been in the press this week again, thanks to a couple of young men who were deeply personally insulted and affronted at the nerve, the sheer bloody gall, the CHEEK of their presumptious places of learning, to include them into an invite that went to all students to voluntary consent courses.

I mean, how DARE these institutions think that these fine young men could possibly have any grey areas of understanding of sexual consent? How dare they think that they look like rapists. I mean, all rapists are clearly identifiable right? They wear t-shirts that identify them as rapists. They sing songs that identify them as rapists. They make signs to hang outside their accommodation to show that rapists live there.

Of course, what these universities should be doing is having a careful look at each male student as they register at fresher’s week, make sure they’re not wearing that “YAY RAPE” shirt and don’t look like they’ll sing rapey songs, and won’t make rapey signs, and of course just by looking at their innocent faces they will spot that these guys are clearly not rapists, and therefore totally understand consent, and make sure that when they send out the invitations to the entire student body, they individually remove these specific innocent looking and obviously well informed young men from their invitation list.

You do have to wonder about what’s going on in the mind of someone who takes an invite to a consent class as a personal insult, or who hears “consent class” and translates that as “tell men not to rape class”. For me, advertising that you think that you don’t look like a rapist, that you think consent is as basic as “no means no, yes means yes”, or that we have a society which has a dangerous “obsession with affirmative, ongoing consent” is a big fucking red flag. Actually, you look EXACTLY like a rapist. Because anyone holding a sign in protest against consent classes looks precisely like a rapist. So thanks, bros, for letting every single woman at your colleges know that you are exactly what a rapist might look like, and to avoid the hell out of you. Seriously, it’s not “wacky third-wave feminists” making you come across like a rapist. It’s your behaviour.

Look, universities really aren’t targeting anyone in particular. Indeed, they can’t target anyone in particular. The university administration has no idea who might be a potential sexual predator.

Because rapists look just like everybody else.

90% of rapes in the UK are committed by someone already known to the victim so actually rapists look like people you already know. You can’t pick who will or won’t be a potential rapist out of a crowd. A friend of mine specialises in an area of work that means most of their clients are sex offenders, and has done for years, and they couldn’t tell you what a rapist looks like, but one identifying feature of almost all the (convicted not accused) rapists they’ve worked with is that they deny being rapists.

There is a huge problem with sexual assault in colleges and universities, and the administrators of those institutions have a duty of care to all students to ensure they understand consent. In a survey of college students it was discovered that a disturbingly high number of students actually admitted to committing rape, when the word “rape” wasn’t actually used in the question.  The holding of consent classes at university, and increased focus on consent being embedded into learning at schools, is recognition of our long term failure to deal with this, and that it’s something we urgently need to fix.

The thing about consent classes is that everyone needs them. EVERYONE. If I was invited to a consent course, I wouldn’t fling my mug of tea in people’s face going “I DON’T NEED YOUR CONSENT CLASSES DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” – I would go along, and I would listen, take part in discussion, I would take what I could learn away with me. I went to an open discussion session on consent a few months after my blog post went viral and learned loads. We can never assume we know everything about a subject; there’s always something new to learn. No one can ever know so much about A Thing that there isn’t always more to learn about That Thing. No expert in any field worth their level of expertise thinks they know everything about their given subject. If they think they do to the extent that they refuse to keep their knowledge up to date and relevant by ongoing study, they’re a poor sort of expert and I am not going to trust them.

Consent classes aren’t about blame. They’re not about encouraging women to report a regretted one night stand as rape (and if you think “regretting a consensual sexual experience” and “not consenting to a sexual experience” are same thing then you really do need to go to a consent class, whatever your gender.) They’re absolutely not about making men out to be rapists. One thing these guys who “don’t look like rapists” seems to forget is men are also victims of rape and sexual assault, from both men and women. Indeed, research from the US suggests that men are more likely to be raped than to be falsely accused of rape. Going by Buzzfeed’s maths that makes men 82,000 times more likely to be raped than be falsely accused of rape.

When I wrote what I now refer to as my “tea blog”, I never expected many people to read it. I certainly didn’t realise what it would mean to so many women (and a fair amount of men) who had been the victim of a sexual assault but never really come to terms with it. I had so many messages from people (mostly women) saying thank you for helping them realise that what had happened to them *wasn’t their fault*. Some women were able to get closure and move on. A small number said that they had reported it to the police, or were considering reporting it, now they could see it wasn’t their fault, because they hadn’t consented.

I also had a few emails from people being heart-breakingly honest about their own sexual past. Who’d realised they hadn’t always sought consent properly. Who realised that their behaviour in the past had actually been Not Ok. My follow up post in particular brought messages from men saying thanks for talking about how an erection isn’t consent and from women saying they’d had to confront their own assumptions about male arousal.

And that’s what consent classes at university can do. They can help people realise what’s happened to them wasn’t their fault, and it helps them be more confident in a situation where someone is pressuring them. Consent classes aren’t about men being taught “not to rape” – they’re about embedding a clear understanding about what is and what isn’t consent. Women also need to know that just because a man is physically aroused doesn’t mean he wants to have sex. Men need to know that it wasn’t their fault because their penis was up when they weren’t up for it, and women need to learn the difference between consent and an erection (because arousal isn’t necessarily the same thing as “yes”.)

Not only is consent everything when it comes to sex, consent classes are for EVERYBODY.

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Guest Blog: Reclaiming Yes

dino sign - guest blog

I am honoured to present the first of what I hope will be many guest blogs on RockstarDinosaurPirate Princess, from writer Charlie Tyler.

Due to the subject matter please note a content warning for  discussion of rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence.


Reclaiming Yes

I am a survivor of rape and intimate partner violence. It’s hard to admit. Hard to talk about. Equally hard is admitting what impact it has had on my ability to make choices in the area of my sex life. That’s what I want to talk about here, but first some history.

He was my first boyfriend and I knew we were deeply in love. The first time he hit me I was angry, horrified and hurt. He cried, begged forgiveness and explained why I had driven him to it. Said it would never happen again. Of course it did. He moved into the flat adjoining my parent’s home. Over the year that followed he hit, cut, choked, bit, punched and raped me. When I thought I was pregnant he beat and kicked me. I think he used physical force to rape me around 10 times. The fear of what he would do if I said no held my tongue after that. I ended the relationship eventually. Then he stalked me. There were letters in blood, suicide threats and intimidation. It’s half my life ago now and yet he still tries to find ways to contact me from half way across the world.

Then there was the man at uni. If you believe the victim blamers I did everything wrong with this one. I had a drink with him; I took him back to my room. I had already had sex with him, and wanted to again. With a condom. He put one on at my insistence, but took it off without me seeing. When I noticed it on the floor I said no and tried to push him away. He held me down and forced himself inside me. I threw him off pretty quickly; he smacked his head on my bedside table and left bleeding with the words “You fucking bitch, I only wanted to see how hard you’d struggle”.

These are my experiences of saying no. My experiences of ‘no’ have made it a hard word for me in a sexual context. ‘No’ is a word I am working on. The other word I am working on is ‘Yes’.

So much of what we are told as women around sex is about what to say no to. We are often told that we are the gatekeepers of chastity and purity. We aren’t supposed to want sex or to enjoy it. Many cultures construct sex as something to be endured by women and enjoyed by men. The messages that we are given by western media press young women to increasingly sexualized gender presentation, whilst simultaneously insisting that they should say no to sex.

I think in the discourse that we have ‘no’ only takes us so far. It reveals a negative view of sex. Being pushed to the limits of our comfort zones. Being the gatekeepers. It suggests that sex is something of a battle, where men will try to get as much as they can, while women should be resisting. This view of sex is not only heterosexist, its downright insulting. Many women like and enjoy sex. Many men are thoughtful and considerate lovers that would only want to have sex with someone with their enthusiastic consent.

The negative view of sex used to indoctrinate young women ingrains in many a sense of shame about their sexuality and bodies. The basic sense of shame and guilt about sex was one of the many factors that rendered me silent in the face of serious abuse. To 16 year old me all sex was bad, wrong and shameful. That view compounded the powerlessness and isolation that I felt. The reality of the situation is that people are sexual beings. There is nothing inherently wrong or shameful about healthy sexuality.

One of the turning points in my sexual healing process has been to turn consent on its head. Moving from a model of sex that has at its core the responsibility to say ‘no’ to what you don’t want, to having the choice to say ‘yes’ to what you do want has been revolutionary for me. It instinctively made so much sense.

So, what does that look like in practice? Well, it looks like an exploration of sexiness. To be able to say ‘yes’ to things you have to know what feels good to you. I honestly didn’t. I had been so focused on what I didn’t want that I had forgot to take note of what I did. Sex had become something I thought I should like and want, but in reality I was normally disembodied and just going through the motions.

The ‘yes’ approach taught me to be more open about sex and sexuality. To have detailed and in-depth discussions with new partners, and existing partners about what feels good for me and for them. In the many areas where I don’t know what feels good, I talk about how I would like to explore sensations. I talk about how it feels when I start to disembody, and what that might look like. I ask for help with staying present, and talk about times when I might not be able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. In the context of a sexual encounter I learned to check in, to ask whether I was touching my partner in the way they wanted to be touched. To notice their breathing, their responses and their body. Also to notice my own. To indicate when I enjoyed something, and to ask for more of those things. I have found it so much easier to ask a partner to do more of something that I want than to ask them to stop doing something I don’t want.

The starting point is being aware of basic boundaries and being explicit about them. I love to be touched except around my neck area. While I might agree with a new partner that general touching is fine, I want to be asked if they would like to touch my neck. For me penetration (of any kind) is something that requires explicit consent. It’s also a different kind of consent. If something is happening to my body, it needs to be because I want it to be happening. Not under duress, not because I feel guilty, nor because I want to please someone else by giving them sexual access to me. Enthusiastic, I really want to be here and I am loving what is happening, consent.

The fact is this isn’t an easy approach. Actually it’s hard. It’s terrifying. It’s opening yourself up to trusting someone else. Trusting them to want enthusiastic consent. Trusting that they wouldn’t want to be having sex with you, however horny they were, if you would rather be watching ‘Glee’.   It’s all about active desire, active involvement and active choices. It’s all about saying ‘yes’. Not just ‘yes’, but ‘Yes, yes, yes, ohhhhhhhhhhhhh yes!’

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Just anxious

anxious-dinosaurIt’s an irony that when I am not having a bout of anxiety, it’s hard to recall and write about exactly how anxiety affects me (in a similar way to how you can remember that a tattoo hurts but you can’t recall the exact pain itself) but when I am in the midst of an episode I can barely string two sentences together. Thus it’s taken me several weeks to write this post, in between bouts feeling fine (occasionally even awesome) and feeling like flinging my laptop into the Thames and watching it sink. Then jumping in myself.  I need to grab those “fine” moments and write in those, because when I am feeling awesome the last thing I want to do is pick up my laptop and write about the times I felt like crawling under my bed and staying there for ever, but when I am in my “fine” moments it’s hard to explain what having an anxiety episode feels like.

I have suffered from Anxiety for much of my life. I was a “sensitive” child – although I would perhaps have been annoyed at being called that. Being, y’know, sensitive. I vividly recall having a panic attack when I was 11, and feeling like the world was ending and nothing would ever be ok again. I’ve previously pondered over whether my anxiety was directly related to my past heavy drinking – as a cause, rather than a consequence.

It strikes me, when I have a bad bout of anxiety, that “mental illness” is somewhat of a misnomer. Most of my worst symptoms are intensely physical; for example jaw clenching, head pain, IBS. Jaw clenching and teeth grinding gives me pain in my face and causes tension headaches. Migraines often lead me to having to lie very still in a dark room with a cold flannel on my face and neck. Joint pain can make doing anything difficult – back and shoulder pain mean sitting and sleeping is painful. Wrist and hand pain can make holding a book or typing near impossible. Let’s not talk about stomach churning nausea and IBS too much. Other people have reported similar physical symptoms of depression and anxiety as twitching muscles, dizzy spells, blurred vision or twitching eyes, racing heartbeat/pulse, vomiting, sweating, rashes or hives, sore throat – the list goes on.

And yet, this is called a mental illness.

When you hear the phrase mental illness, if you’ve never suffered one, or had a loved one suffer, perhaps you would assume that it mean the illness is all in the mind. That you can think yourself better. Or perhaps you think that the illness only affects your mental state, and if you can snap out of it you’ll be better.

The thing is, after many years of therapy and hard work, I’m excellent at managing the mental symptoms. I am great at recognising the early warning signs of a panic attack, and of taking self-care steps during an extended bout of bad anxiety to make sure I can at least appear to be operating like a functional human, and I’ve got really good at being able to rationally deal with the weird paranoia business. But no amount of mental homework, self care, self kindness, rest or applying of coping strategies have any effect whatsoever on the physical symptoms of anxiety. And even being as good as I am at coping with the mental symptoms, and even knowing that it’s some sort of faulty wiring and that there’s nothing I actually need to panic about, that it’s “just” anxiety doesn’t make the physical pain stop. Because a “mental” illness is not “just” a mental illness.

When you have a “mental” illness you hear “just” a lot. Things like,

“Maybe if you just went outside for a bit?”

“You should just cheer up, other people have it worse you know!”

“Why don’t you just go for a walk or do some exercise?”

“Just calm down, you’re not dying”

“You should just eat more vegetables”

“Couldn’t you just…”

No. I can’t just. THAT’S THE POINT.

This is really frustrating to someone who is experiencing all the physical baggage of a condition like anxiety or depression because there’s no “just” about it. You wouldn’t “just” a person with a broken leg and expect that to make it better. No one would suggest to someone with a broken leg that they “just walk it off”. No one questions the impact – physical and emotional – that having a broken leg can have on someone. So why do we find it so hard to accept that a condition that affects our emotional state also affects us physically? That “mental” illnesses are real illnesses, with painful physical symptoms, that can’t be necessarily thought or willed away?

I sometimes wonder whether the categorisation of some illnesses or conditions as “mental” actually leads them to be not taken as seriously as, say, a broken leg. But mental illnesses or conditions can be fatal.

For me, when I have a bad panic attack, all I really need is for someone to sit near me and go “hey, I am here. When you’re ok, I’ll still be sitting right here.” And then I’ll calm right down. It’s like magic. The physical symptoms aren’t as easy to deal with.

If you know someone with an anxiety condition, or depression, or a mental illness, please don’t “just” them. And remember that it really isn’t all “in their minds”. It might be called a “mental” illness, but the causes and symptoms can be anything but.


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

nurture? not sure

IMG_20150823_201514I’m often told I don’t look my age. I have to admit I rather enjoy the look of shock that usually appears on people’s faces when I tell them my actual age. It’s usually followed up with “what’s your secret?” Depending on how well I know them and their sense of humour the answer tends to be one or a combination of…

  • Good genes, thanks Mum
  • Stay out of the sun, don’t smoke
  • You should see the state of the portrait in my attic
  • It’s mostly because I act like a child
  • Bathing in the blood of virgins
  • My dress sense never grew up
  • Ritual sacrifice

I don’t really mind being told I look much younger than I am – I generally take it as a compliment, and I am sure it’s meant as one, although I do have some complex feelings over why looking ‘young’ is a good thing and looking ‘old’ must be avoided. That’s probably enough of a subject for a blog all on its own. But anyway, once it’s found out how old I actually am, it’s almost inevitable that a follow up question is coming. I can see it coming. A certain furrow of the brows, a questioning look, a slight tilt of the head. It comes in different forms of course, but the meaning is the same.

“You never think about having children?” or “Aren’t you worried you haven’t had children yet?” or perhaps “haha you must look young because you haven’t had children yet” or my personal favourite is when they don’t even bother with the question and go straight for “don’t worry, lots of women have children when they’re older these days”.  I’ve usually already prepared my answers, again depending on how well I know them and how a joke might work, while they were tilting their head and furrowing their brows…

  • I can’t even keep a plant alive
  • Children are awesome but I like to be able to give them back when I am bored
  • I have no desire to foist my genetic material onto another living being
  • I’d rather have a sausage dog
  • No, but I’ll be a brilliant aunt

Occasionally, people take my answer for some sort of deep seated sadness that I haven’t given my womb any other sort of purpose other than making my life difficult on a monthly basis, and reassure me that “it’s not too late” which leads to more awkwardness as I have to reassure them that no, really, it’s trex vs babyok. I don’t have children, I don’t really want children, I am not sad that I don’t have children, I do like children, I just don’t really want one of my own, and that’s ok and OH LOOK OVER THERE A SQUIRREL and I run away while they aren’t looking. Or fake a text message. Or hide under my desk until they’re gone.

I know I am getting on a bit in terms of producing a new human. I mean, a friend of mine was age-shamed by the nurse when she got pregnant at 34. THIRTY FOUR. I am older than that, and I still think of things in terms of “when I grow up”. I can’t imagine myself ever feeling “old enough” for that sort of responsibility.

I genuinely CAN’T keep plants alive, not even mint, or bamboo, and the thought of being responsible for a whole human? That’s terrifying. Look, when I moved out of the former Mr RDPs house he originally wanted me to keep the cat because he thought the cat loved me more than him. It was a huge relief to me when I couldn’t find somewhere to rent where the cat was welcome and the cat stayed with him. It was a huge relief to him too, as really, he wanted to keep the cat. I kind of wish he’d been up front about that in the first place, as I wanted him to keep the cat too. When it was still undecided I was lying awake at night panicking about how I was going to be responsible for this furry little life. What if he got sick or lost or ran away or abducted by aliens? It would be MY FAULT. How on earth would I keep him safe? How will I live with myself if I can’t?  (It worked out fine in the end and the cat now loves the ex more, in that easy way cats have of transferring their affections to the nearest reliable source of food and head skritches. I visit him occasionally, he looks at me with suspicion then ignores me. This relationship works for both of us. The cat, I mean. Not my ex. Head skritching your ex is definitely crossing some sort of boundary.)

I find having responsibility for my OWN life hard enough work without also having responsibility for the life of something else. So not having plants, pets or human children plant deathsuits me just fine. But no one ever asks me to defend why I don’t have plants or pets. For some reason, asking a woman WHY she doesn’t have children is perfectly fine. And for some reason, my genuine answer, that “I am just not really a nurturing person, actually. I am a bit selfish, and quite chaotic, and I struggle with my own mental health, and most of my energy is spent on taking care of myself, and actually, I am ok with that” is not a good enough answer for many people. People assume that, because I am female, I MUST be a nurturing person with a desire to look after a small human really.

But I am not. I mean, I like to make sure my friends are ok, and I have empathy, and I care about people. But I can’t do it to anyone all the time. I think it’s one of the things that has affected many of my long term relationships; because I just find it really hard work to have responsibility for someone else’s emotional wellbeing. I don’t really like looking after people. Or doing caring nurturing things. Perhaps I am doing myself a disservice, perhaps my friends are reading this thinking oh, shush, you are SO a caring dontwantthemperson. And yes, I am sure I am, but caring is not the same thing as nurturing.

The thing that really pisses me off about this all is this idea that women are “meant” to be nurturing. We’re “meant” to want to care for people, small animals, plants and friends. It’s in our socialisation, in our toys, in the advertising and in the movies; women are the caring, life giving, emotionally supportive gender, and men are the emotionless, self sufficient problem solvers. And when we’re not, it’s questioned. Either we don’t know our minds yet, and we’ll change them, or there’s “still time”, or we “haven’t met the right person yet”. Or perhaps we’re cold and heartless.

Honestly, truly and honestly, how many men get asked repeatedly why they don’t have children, and when saying they don’t want them are pressed for reasons why? How many men ever feel shamed or “wrong” because they don’t want to be the emotional support for someone else, who want to be “selfish” and be on their own? I am willing to bet very few. It’s seen as perfectly ordinary for men to be insular, more selfish and less nurturing. On the flip side – how often are men’s desires when it comes to this ignored? Men who really want children, who really want to parent or give love, who want to nurture? The shaming of men in caring professions like nursing or childcare; or the comments when a dad is with his children that he’s “babysitting” or that it’s “mum’s day off”. (No. he’s PARENTING.)

Well I am not a nurturing person. I don’t want my own children (although I probably will be a fantastic aunt one day) and that’s ok. No one, of any gender, should be made to feel guilty if they are, or aren’t, the nurturing type.

You know that scene in Mad Max Fury Road when [SPOILER] Max saved Furiosa by literally giving her his blood? A lot of feminists (including me) flipped their shit over the scene. Furiosa saved them all by being asskickingly badass and strong; Max saved Furiosa though nurture. It was a juxtaposition so perfect, so stark; and says a lot about how wedded we are to gender roles that it was so powerful – we’re simply not used to seeing them represented like that.

It’s about time we stopped shaming women for not being nurturing enough, and shaming men for wanting to nurture. It helps exactly no one. And please, stop asking women of any age why they don’t have children. Because that’s just fucking weird.

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

Three Thinks: Sex work, Gender & Feminist Dating

I’m still finding it hard to sit down every single Sunday and write. Last year it was really important to me to do so, because writing here was so tied up with giving up alcohol that I felt if I didn’t write every Sunday I may as well go back to drinking and the two – writing and not drinking – became inextricably linked. Now I know I can happily not drink just by, you know, not drinking.

So Sunday arrives and I either have a completely blank head and that weird sensation of knowing you enjoy something but also feeling like it’s become work and therefore you don’t enjoy it any more even though you do. (I’m not the only person that does that, right? I am sure other people must have, say, got their dream job being paid for what they love to do and then suddenly discovering that once you’re paid to do what you enjoy doing it’s suddenly not fun any more? Having said that I am not being paid to write (yet…) so who knows what would happen if I got a job that paid me for sitting down and writing.) At other times, Sunday arrives and my head is buzzing with so many ideas and thoughts that I can’t catch any of them and just end up letting them go because trying to pick one of those buzzy thoughts out of the air and trap it on paper or screen feels too difficult.

Before I know it, Sunday is almost over and I find ways to justify not writing. Or I’ll start writing, and tell myself I’ll finish it on Monday. Tuesday. Friday. I’ll just write next week. But I know that I am even less motivated to open my laptop on a weeknight than on a Sunday. I don’t want to have to do any thinking after a day at work. That’s why I watch so much CSI. Or If I’m feeling like shouting at the TV, NCIS. (Seriously, how the fuck has DiNozzo not been fired for sexual harassment? He’s a fucking sex pest.)

Despite the overwhelming meh, I still have itchy fingers and it’s not always that I want to write much as need to write (to stop the buzzing. And the guilt.) So this week I am forcing myself to open the laptop and I’m going to try to grab some of the loudest buzzy thoughts and trap them in words to stop them buzzing, and maybe start some conversations, and see what happens…

Sex Work – A thought experiment.

I’ve been involved in a number of debates about sex work recently, which is unsurprising given the amount of press since Amnesty’s announcement that they were consulting over their new policy on human rights for sex workers, and their subsequent declaration that they support decriminalisation. This is a huge and complex issue, that much has been clear over the last week of my enthusiastic internet debating. Argumentative, remember? On a personal level, I know people who’ve been trapped in the sex industry, and desperate to get out, and who’ve subsequently struggled to enter legal work after. I also know people who chose sex work, who love it, who made a lot of money and found a lot of job satisfaction and enjoyment out of that work. Just like any other industry really. Only other industries aren’t illegal, or as (potentially) exploitative. Or ones that are, but aren’t selling sex, and mainly employ men; but we don’t see any rush to criminalise construction.

I don’t come at this from the angle that sex work is inherently wrong. I don’t see the sex Traystrade as necessarily being about a transaction that is inherently based on men buying women’s bodies, although to be fair that’s pretty much how it is right now; and I think it’s vital to point out that #notallsexwork is the same. There are many sex workers out there who are not women and many sex work consumers who are not men. And I don’t buy that in Feminist Utopia there’d be no sex trade. In fact, I rather think that there would very much be a sex trade in Feminist Utopia, because female sexuality would no longer be demonised and women would be as able to want, seek, enjoy or refuse sex as men currently are, and there’d be no stigma over sexuality.

So here’s a thought experiment for you.

Sex work is monetising one’s own body. In order to sell one’s own body for any reason, society has to accept that one has agency and ownership over one’s body.

Free market capitalism relies on workers having no control of the means of production.

Patriarchy relies on women having no ownership of their own bodies.

We live in a capitalist patriarchy and rules, laws and views on sex work will be filtered through that lens.

Allowing women to choose sex work as a profession, or to leave sex work as a profession, requires acknowledging that prostitutes have ownership of the means of production. Literally that women have ownership of their own bodies.

It shouldn’t be a radical viewpoint that women should own their own bodies, but in capitalist patriarchy it’s about as radical as it gets.

Gender – shifting the ‘default’

I read this wonderful article the other day about one individual’s journey of gender exploration. It occurred to me as I was reading that we look at gender all wrong. If you think about it, it makes more sense to have “agender” as a default state, a centre of a spectrum from which other gender expressions fan out; rather than our current idea where people must fit into a binary of either female/feminine or male/masculine and that anything else is a deviation from that. Because I wasn’t sure I could articulate my thoughts about it well, I tried to draw a diagram. It’s by no means perfect, and it’s no gender unicorn.


I was trying to show how it would make way more sense to view complete lack of gender as a default, and not a fixed position. As you move through life you might find you move around in the circle loads, like Tyler from the Guardian article. Or you might move around just in one side. Or you might stay at one end. There probably wouldn’t be very many people right in the middle, or at the far ends, and given the freedom to explore gender, and freed from the constraints of cultural pressure to conform to one side or the other, people may well find they experiment and move around more.

Of course it has to be pointed out that ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are entirely socially constructed, so what is at either end of this diagram isn’t even fixed.

But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all understand gender as a spectrum that we could all explore however we wished, without judgement or dismissal?

A feminist dating

It’s my 1 year anniversary of being single (congratulations to me!) and just as I predicted I’ve rather enjoyed it. It’s great to have had time to really pick apart what it is I want out of life, and what it is I’ve been socialised to think I want. I did briefly download Tinder just to see what the fuss was about. I received a bunch of unsolicited dick pics and went on one pretty disastrous date and uninstalled it within a week. I re-activated my long dormant OKCokc1upid account, decided that Me-Four-Years-Ago was a totally different person and de-activated it so I could start a completely new one. In the ‘about me’ section, front and centre, I wrote that I was a feminist. A card carrying, humourless, shrill angry feminist who wrote angry things about feminism on the internet. This is against the advice that we feminists are often given. We’re told to “tone down” our feminism or we’ll frighten people off. We’re to be less angry, or we won’t “find a man”. We’re told “you’re probably single because you’re too feminist”.

But you know what? If I have to compromise my beliefs in order to find a partner, then that partner is not the partner for me. Sure, there’s many people for whom “feminist” is a turn off, but that doesn’t bother me, because I don’t want to date anyone who wouldn’t date a feminist.

I’m not really looking for a relationship though. I like not having to be responsible for someone else’s feelings, and not having anyone else be responsible for mine. I like not having to negotiate my spare time, or share space in my bed (I am a diagonal sleeper). The best relationships I’ve ever had were the ones that started unexpectedly when I wasn’t looking because I was quite ok with the way things were. I generally find that people that really want a relationship, who think they need a relationship to be happy, are those that struggle most with being happy. I reckon that feeling of need puts so much pressure on any new relationship that they can’t live up to what you want. I believe that if you think you need a romantic relationship or a significant other to make you happy, then the last thing you need is a relationship with someone else. You need to make a better relationship with yourself so you are happy alone. Someone else should add to your life, not fix or complete it. If feeling like that makes me undateable and too feminist, then so be it.

I leave you with this passage that MummyDinosaurPirate sent to me many years ago, when I wasn’t in such a good place having been through a nasty break up. It’s been my model for healthier relationships ever since.

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Posted in feminism, my opinions let me show you them | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments


Cardology: The science of analyisng someone's personality based on their birthday cards.

Cardology: The science of analyisng someone’s personality based on their birthday cards.

My birthday this year made me feel profoudly grateful for my wonderful friends – new and old – who sent me cards and gifts, or drew awesome pictures, or sent me messages or sang songs to my voicemail.  It all reminds me that I’m not alone, that people understand me, that people are thinking of me and care. As someone who suffers from anxiety and has struggled with depression in the past that is an incredibly powerful feeling.

I tend to see birthdays as basically an an excuse to take days off work to do absolutely nothing and act ridiculously. Well, ok, I often act ridiculously but birthdays allow you to act ridiculously without the added side-eye that you get when you’re nearly 40 and acting ridiculously on a day to day basis. Birthdays are a free pass for excessive cake eating, lie-ins, duvet fort huddling, staying-up-all-nighting and it’s a great way to get people to play silly games with you.

Unfortunately my birthday fell mid-week this year, and I had to work. This rather cockblocked (cakeblocked?) any hedonistic and/or lazy plans. So I decided to implement the concept of UNICORN Birthdays. A UNICORN Birthday is the birthday that happens on the Saturday before when your Human Birthday falls midweek. I would strongly encourage you all to have your own UNICORN Birthday, because I have to say it was significantly more fun than a Human Birthday.

Here are my recommendations for a successful UNICORN Birthday

1 – Dress appropriately


2 – Eat cake until you explode. This cake was the work of Hillman’s Tea Room who I cannot recommend enough. There was so much food that I was still eating the leftovers on my Human Birthday.


3 – HAVE ALL THE FUN. I am not even joking, this place opened near my house about 2 weeks ago and it’s quite possibly one of the most exciting things to happen ever. EVER. Seriously. Dinosaur Crazy Golf. DINOSAUR crazy golf. DINOSAUR CRAZY golf. I want to go EVERY DAY.


It turns out I am absolutely terrible at golf, and so are most of my friends. But who cares. DINOSAURS! We were the only group of adults there and were by far the worst players. At one point I got my ball (fnar) stuck under a ledge which meant the only way to play it was to lie on the floor and use my golf club like a snooker cue. At the last hole I managed to hit the ball under a small net, over some water, where it hit a rock and shot halfway up the side of a Spinosaurus. I actually got a bit of a telling off from a staff member who’d assumed I’d tried to hit it *over* the net. I told him that I am highly skilled at being terrible at crazy golf and that should get extra points for being creatively terrible. The member of staff wasn’t convinced.

4 – Stay up past your bedtime. In fact, stay up all night because then Sunday is technically still Saturday and therefore STILL YOUR UNICORN BIRTHDAY and you can carry on dressing appropriately, eating cake and having fun until you collapse of AWESOMENESS. Or fatigue, whichever happens first.


You may think that this looks more like a DINOSAUR Birthday than a UNICORN Birthday, but you would be wrong. A DINOSAUR Birthday is is the birthday that happens on the Saturday after when your Human Birthday falls midweek. Therefore my Dinosaur Birthday is tomorrow…

Posted in Me Me Me, Sugar | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

the apple doesn’t fall very far

Of all the publications and site that covered my infamous tea & consent blog, the weirdest one was the Daily Mail. I didn’t actually end up with a huge amount of traffic coming directly from it; but then it came out several months after it had first gone viral (viralled?) and perhaps by that point everyone was thoroughly sick of it. I was actually at work when someone emailed me the link, and as I scrolled I felt a weird sense of euphoria mixed with nausea. (Don’t read the comments.) I mean, it was amazing – something I wrote has been picked up by one of the most read papers in the country! But, on the other hand, it’s the Daily Mail. I really dislike the Daily Mail (don’t read the comments). As a non-straight woman, product of a single mother, left wing, cycling feminist – I am not exactly the sort of person who enjoys, or is enjoyed by, the Daily Mail (don’t read the comments). I am the sort of person the Daily Mail hates. I would have thought were I ever to end up in the Daily Mail it would not be for anything good.

I was fine until I scrolled (don’t read the comments) about two thirds of the way down to suddenly be confronted with my BIG FACE and realise that they’d been over to my Twitter and used a picture I’d posted a few weeks before, with the tagline “why yes, I am a massive dork”. (Oh god, don’t read the comments) Even after the experience of going viral I still clearly hadn’t taken on board the sage advice, “be careful what you share publically”. Did you know that posting things on Twitter publicly counts technically as publishing it, and anyone can use your picture as long as they credit Twitter? I kind of did know it, but it had never occurred to me that I’d ever do anything interesting enough for anyone to actually do it to me. Consider that a lesson learned. Although, to be fair, it wasn’t a bad picture and I *am* a massive dork.

(I read the comments.)

That same day I received an email from Mummy DinoPirate with the subject “the apple doesn’t fall very far”. She had thoroughly enjoyed living vicariously through me during the period of my blog going viral, messaging me every day for an update on my visitor and view numbers, collecting and tallying all the publications that shared it, making a list of all the languages it was translated into, and generally being all proud. It wasn’t until the Daily Mail article however that she remembered her brief brush with fame, and sent me the story of when she ‘went viral’ before such a thing even existed. Yes, young padawans, there was a time when there were no home computers or email or internet, and computers were basically the size of dinosaurs. Although, interestingly, plenty of female computer pioneers.

And so, in MummyDinoPirate’s own words, this is what it was like to ‘go viral’ in 1964. And perhaps a glimpse into where my writing style comes from.

“I don’t know if I ever told you this story – but with the Daily Mail thing today, it brought it back and I was struck by the parallels and also how much ‘going viral’ has changed.

When I was 13, at boarding school, I was incensed by reports in the paper (which I perceived as) attacking young people – something like “YOUNG PEOPLE HAVE NO RESPECT – LOOK HOW THEY VANDALISE PHONE BOXES” was the trigger for me. (This was pre-Dr Who days, I am sure the advent of Dr Who brought about a great change in young people’s attitudes to phone boxes)

I was all about helping old ladies and doing voluntary service in the local mental hospital. Ok, ok, it was to get out having to play sport on Saturday, not really altruistic, but I still felt outraged by this generalisation of young people.

So I wrote a letter – I’d love to say it was the Daily Fail, to give our stories greater congruency, but alas, I fear it was the Daily Express. (Just as bad). The letter was, obviously, along the lines of #notallyoungpeople but was penned (literally, as this was the days before computers) before the advent of such a useful tool as a hashtag.

The letter was published.

I was so excited and happy to see my name in print and my complaint made public in the National Press.

UNTIL the next day. In those days a postage stamp cost 3d (old money) and a letter posted today would arrive at its destination the next day. I was called to the Headmistress’s Office, where she was standing, with a face of thunder, surrounded by five Royal Mail sacks, stuffed with letters. All in response to this bloody letter I had written.

When we talk now about “don’t read the comments” I am taken vividly back to that time when I lost the next six months of my life. She made me not only read all of those letters, but forced me to reply to each and every one. And may I remind you, this was not only pre-computer, but also pre-biro, and yes, even pre-fountain pen so I am actually surprised that my fingers do not still bear the stains of Quink from my ink-pen which I had to dip into the inkwell in my desk.

As far as I remember, the letters were mostly very sweet / sympathetic / encouraging – they felt sad that a 13 year old felt moved to have to stand her ground against an evil world! Some were obviously patronising. I think there were only a very few negative ones, but I can’t remember much about them – along the lines of young people should be seen and not heard and shouldn’t be given space in the newspaper. I think it had such a strong reaction because generally speaking in those days children did not write letters to newspapers.

I do remember that the next day at the top of the Letters column the headline, in bold, was “Cheer up Amanda” and there were about four letters in response. I was allowed to see that, but after that the school banned me from reading the newspaper – they didn’t want to encourage press interest in the school, so they didn’t want me to engage further!

Going viral in 1964 was a very different experience from yours.”

Posted in Me Me Me | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Feminist Fatigue

atentdeadYou may have noticed that blogday has been missing for a couple of weeks. I have no excuse for this – I wasn’t moving house (thank goodness – I’ve already done that 5 times since starting this blog) or on holiday or ill or anything special at all.  Well, I had a few exams and was prioritising revision, but if I am brutally honest with myself the revision was a blessed excuse not to write.

I didn’t write because…I had nothing to say.

Not that there wasn’t anything going on in the world that I could have written about, or that nothing made me angry, or that nothing happened, or either that I didn’t have any ideas to write about. I just couldn’t get my brain in the right space to sit down and write. It all felt too huge, too complicated, too pointless, too much of a struggle. With my mental health history, this sort of thing would normally be a bit of a red flag for me; but it didn’t feel like a bleakening, not in the way I was used to.

When I started this blog it was for very personal reasons. It was to track my progress of giving up drinking for a year, and to get myself used to writing. Most weeks I wrote about my life, baking disasters, my past, what had happened in that week. As the giving up drinking progressed and became easier, and I became more confident a writer, I started to diverge and write about topics more important to me; feminism, health, body shaming, objectification, street harassment. My readership started to pick up, people told me they liked my writing, and my writing became increasingly political. I started taking risks with my writing.

Then I made a throwaway remark about consenting to a cup of tea once meaning you don’t want cups of tea forever and suddenly real people who weren’t related to me or sharing a flat with me started reading my blog, writing to me, sharing my blog and at some point along the way I felt like I had to keep writing about important things. I had to Be A Voice. None of these fabulous new readers want to know about my love life or how horrible I am at cooking, do they? So each week I felt more and more pressure to keep writing about feminist issues, railing against the kyriarchy (it’s like the patriarchy, but it recognises the intersectional nature of privilege so it can be more useful, but it’s less well known so if you use it people tend to look at  you funny) which is great, because I love getting up a good righteous anger and having a good solid rant, and hope that at the very least one person will read it and be inspired, or will change their mind about something, or will think about something in a new way.

But for the last two weeks, Sunday has arrived and…I got nothing. Nothing other than an overwhelming sense of oh fuck it. What’s the point. It’s all too much. There’s too much wrong with this world. With this society. Gender essentialism, binary obsessions, pink and blue, institutional sexism, sexual hypocrisy, violence…it goes on.

misandrywwThere’s a running joke that feminists hate fun and have no sense of humour and are just trying to ruin things for everyone else. That we’re all miserable angry harpies getting annoyed all the time about little things. And you know, sometimes it really does feel like that. Because there are just so many fucking little things that people think are ok but they bloody well AREN’T. All these ‘little things’ we’re getting so annoyed about are cultural markers; signposts of a culture which thinks ‘man’ is default and ‘women’ is a special need and that it’s ok to constantly turn these signposts to point in different directions. On different planets. And it’s so much easier to win those small battles too. Getting a sexist sign changed in a shop, getting a company to withdraw offensive clothing. The small battles are winnable, and each small battle sends a message back up the kyriarchy chain that actually this shit is NOT insignificant and up with it we will not put.

These small shitty things, these microaggressions, they don’t happen in a vacuum. All those tiny little battles fought on a daily basis by fucked off feminists (of any gender) happen in a wider context of a society that blithely thinks that they are ok in the first place. Where adverts can go through god knows how many stages of proofing and copy before someone says uh, guys? This isn’t ok. Where a team of scientists can land a robot on a meteor and at no point does anyone think to say mate, maybe change your shirt before you go on TV because it might look kinda bad. The little battles are a fundamental part of the war – and let’s be blunt about this – feminists are in war against the kyriarchy. We want to smash it. To smithereens. (Note for those that struggle with nuance: neither kyriarchy nor patriarchy = men. Feminists are not warring against men. We’re actually, generally speaking, on the side of men too and believe that smashing kyriarchy/patriarchy will make things an awful lot better for men too).

The trouble with being at war, with fighting all these daily battles, with seeing this shit all around us all the time, every day, is that you inevitably get battle fatigue. It just all seems too much sometimes. It feels, well hopeless. You wonder what you can achieve when Nope-Spacethere’s just so damn much to fix in the first place. Even something really small can make you throw your hands up in the air and go NOPE CAN’T EVEN. For me, it was a trip to Sainsbury’s. Sure, they’ve taken away the “girls” and “boys” signs on their clothing aisle, but they still have two aisles of clothes and one is all white and pink and frilly and the other is all blue and robots and Dinosaurs and Marvel. You don’t need an arrow with the word “boys” on it to get that message. Then I looked at the birthday cards and there was one about ‘things all women understand’ and went on to make weak jokes about shoes and chocolate and shopping because OH LOL WOMEN AND THEIR SHOES AND THEIR CHOCOLATE AND THEIR SHOPPING AMIRITE.

And the thing is I never even noticed it at one point. I was able to turn on the telly and watch a TV show or a film without going OH FOR THE LOVE OF FLYING MONKEYS FUCK OFF.  There was a time when adverts didn’t make me want to throw all televisions off a cliff or set fire to EVERYTHING. I’ve heard the same from other feminists; that it’s like someone’s turned a light on when you didn’t even realise it was too dark to see, and now the light is on you can see EVERYTHING and you can’t turn the fucking thing off. Or, as a fellow feminist put it recently:

“I’m so fed up of noticing everything that’s wrong with this fucked up world. I really wish sometimes that I could go back to thinking things were basically okay. It feels like everything is covered with broken glass and the broken glass was always there but I somehow never noticed all the blood everywhere. Now all I see is the broken glass and pain. And I know I should feel all, “Rawr, must change world for better!” rather than wanting to stick my head in the sand, but for the moment I barely have the spoons for a badly-needed shower, let alone changing the world.”

I am quite sure that there are people reading that right now and nodding and going yup. And not just those of us on the front lines of the battle for gender equality either.  Political activists, disability rights campaigners, campaigners for racial equality; anyone engaged in challenging the established societal order and trying to make people think actually this shit is not ok will understand that occasionally overwhelming waves of despair and ennui will crash over us and make us wish for a time when we were going through life with the political equivalent of closing our eyes and sticking our fingers in our ears and going LA LA LA CAN’T HEAR YOU.

There’s no cure for Feminist Fatigue, but the good news is it’s not a terminal diagnosis. All you need to cure a bad bout of it is a radical act – that of self care. Turn off the TV. Shut down the self-care ALourdeinternet for a day. Treat yourself to a bath or ice cream or a run or do your nails or ride a bike or listen to your favourite album or read a book. (Or leave your blog alone for a week or two…) For a little while, put yourself first and just do whatever makes you happy. And know that you are allowed to put yourself first. In a culture where women are taught from a young age that women should be caring and kind and nurturing and put others first, even the act of taking a break and putting yourself first is revolutionary. So in a way, taking a break and taking some time out from feminism could be considered a feminist act in of itself. No one can win a war when battle weary.

So having given that advice to my feminist sister-at-arms to take a break, I took my own advice and took my own. We all need some time out from time to time, and that’s ok. Let the other feminists hold the fort until you feel ready take the line again, and smash that kyriarchy.

Posted in feminism, Me Me Me | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

Civilly Disobedient

dino poster sign austerityThis Saturday I joined hundreds of thousands of others in protesting against the UK government’s harsh, illogical, unfair and ideologically driven austerity policies.

It wasn’t my first protest; although I have an anxiety disorder and struggle with large crowds, and a medical issue that means it is painful to walk for long distances I feel some things are important enough to be present for. This was one of those occasions.

Contrary to what you might have read in various right leaning news publications (many of which are coincidentally owned by the government friendly Murdoch empire), yesterday’s protest was peaceful. Incredibly peaceful. I’ve been told that the Met police reported no arrests at all. There were people from all backgrounds, ages, beliefs, abilities. There were tiny babies in arms, in buggies, children in buggies, elderly people, people with mobility issues, mental health difficulties, people using wheelchairs, students, fire fighters, political parties. I was rather excited to meet a group of deaf BSL speakers and get in some sneaky practice for my exam on Monday. SO many different groups were represented – but ALL had in common that they have had enough of austerity and want a fair alternative, and wanted to government to hear that message.

On arrival at Westminster there was a festival atmosphere –people picnicking in the street, playing music, having impromptu dance parties while pink and orange flares operated as smoke machines. Children were playing safely and happily in roads that would normally be glutted with speeding cars and HGVs.

protest - police pensions

Source: Facebook

The protest was lightly policed – nothing like the heavy handed and reactionary policing seen in Walthamstow when local residents arranged a counter protest to the EDL turning up unwanted in the borough. I barely saw a police officer until we reached Parliament Square, and those were friendly & helpful. I even saw a few enjoying the music of the impromptu dance party at one point. There was no agitation, no kettling. In fact the largest number of police were guarding monuments to make sure people didn’t draw on them.

There were a few moments that unsettled me. One was passing a large banner for Class War. It was surrounded by protesters wearing entirely black, with masks obscuring their faces, sunglasses obscuring their eyes. They stood in almost military postures; legs planted wide, arms crossed, surveying the crowd from above. Far from being of the people, for the people; they looked more like riot police. Perhaps this image is deliberate, but it felt at odds with the general feel of the rest of the protest, where the vast majority did not march with face coverings. The second was when a group of people were dancing near Parliament Square, when a masked man came up and set fire to a pile of placards. Everyone around him moved away, about 50 photographers moved in. It was a sad moment; and we knew even at that point that this photo would be spun somehow to represent the protest, when this was far from the truth. Within hours certain papers were reporting this incident of one stupid and irresponsible man lighting a small fire as ‘protesters’ were ‘setting bonfires’

I have never been involved in any trouble on previous protests. I am a peaceful protester, and always have been. I chose to show my face as someone standing up for what I believe in. I march the agreed route, stay in the agreed area, don’t shout at the police – they’re just doing their job and chances are a fair number of them agree with the larger aims of the protest.  I’ve been one of those people frustrated at a minority of people who appear to be causing damage to property and giving other protesters a bad name. But I also have some acquaintances (who shall of course all remain entirely anonymous) who do get involved with more direct activism of what might be called ‘damaging’. More shouting, going ‘off route’, getting in people’s faces, beating up fascists. And yes, covering their faces.

I’ve always been an advocate of peaceful protest. Tutting at people making ‘the rest of us look bad’ or ‘distracting from the message with violence’. Frustrated at people turning legitimate protest into an opportunity to have a rumble or smash a window. But in the lead up to this protest, and on the day itself I  had some very interesting conversations with others over these two approaches to protest, and I’ve found myself realising that the situation isn’t as simple as peaceful vs antagonistic, where the peaceful protesters are ‘good’ and ‘right’ and the antagonistic ones are ‘bad’ and ‘disruptive.

History tells a story of two sides to every political protest; hindsight suggests that no one remembers the peaceful protesters. The much reviled poll tax was repealed – we remember the Poll Tax Riots. There were peaceful protests too – but which type contributed to the policy being repealed? The conservative Suffragists hated the militant Suffragettes – who adopted their name from a slur thrown at them. But who do we remember as being instrumental in getting the vote? Nelson Mandela started campaigning against Apartheid on a platform of peace, but became militarised after coming to the conclusion that peace wasn’t working, and that violence needed to be met with violence. Gandhi maintained that protests should always be peaceful – but he was still arrested and others were violent in his cause, and it’s hard to say whether it was the peaceful approach or the violence that led to change.

Do the ends justify the means? Would the Suffragists have eventually got votes for women using a peaceful campaigns? Would Apartheid have been brought to an end purely by peaceful protest and political sanctions? I reckon you could probably put 5 historians in a room and they’d come out with 10 different answers. But it can’t be argued that change happened – peaceful or otherwise.

protest - child

Source: Facebook

The media takes a huge part in this; peaceful protests are easy to ignore in the media and sometimes protests only end up getting wider media coverage *because* they turn violent, or because property is damaged. Peaceful protests can be ignored, covered up and dismissed by the media and the government.  Antagonistic protest gets media coverage; front pages, breaking news, debate. What’s frustrating for activists – peaceful and antagonistic alike – is when all the media care about is the one idiot setting a small fire. What works best is when the protest gets picked up by the media and the cause is highlighted, debated, brought out to the wider public. If that doesn’t happen by peaceful means, I can see why resorting to less legal methods to highlight the issues might be desirable. You could make the argument that if the press bothered to highlight large peaceful protests and rasie the issues, there’d be no need for antagonism at all.

Some would argue that those who are violent are merely reacting in kind. This is easy to see in the case of those who are involved in violent retaliation against violent racist groups – the argument is that if violence is to be used by the racists, then violence should be the reply. Some might argue that as our government are committing violence against the citizens of the UK that violence is an appropriate response. I am not sure I agree that violence is necessarily the only response to violence; but I can see the logic in the argument even while I disagree with the method, and of course we come back around again to asking was it the peaceful retaliation that made the difference in the first place, or the violence? It’s hard to ask these questions without being seen to condone violent actions, which I do not want to do. Of course, the reasons for a protest turning violent can vary greatly; the media narrative is often around violent protesters getting out of hand (like they muppet setting fire to banners. Why set fire to banners that support our cause? Utterly pointless). But peaceful protests have turned violent because ordinary people have been subject to a massive police overreaction, or because of state agitators sent in on purpose to cause trouble to devalue the point of the protesters.

As for covering faces – the vast majorty of people did not cover their faces. But I did see a fair number of peaceful law abiding people with face coverings. In these days of increased surveillance where even people attending a music festival with no particular reputation for troubles protest the  northare having their faces scanned, when some clubs insist on passport ID for entrance, where the government want to have rights to listen to our phone calls, read our emails, know everything about our private electronic lives, is it any wonder that many people feel that they need to hide their faces? I’ve heard people use the line that ‘people that have nothing to hide don’t need to hide their faces’ but that’s a poor line to use for the continued slow erosion of people’s liberties. While I may not hide mine, I am fully behind the choice of others to hide theirs, whatever their reasons may be.

When it comes to law breaking – not all law breaking is equal. I am fully behind some acts of civil disobedience. The impromptu dance party in Parliament Square is my kind of civil disobedience. No one is hurt, no property is damaged, people smile and some laws of questionable efficacy are mildly flouted (and it was FUN.) Minor acts of civil disobedience that cause no damage and do no harm to others are a sort of protest I can get behind – but they are often policed heavy handedly, resulting in arrests for people doing little to deserve it.  And there’s my issue. I am scared of getting arrested, and how it might impact my job. I am scared of being kettled because I worry how I’d handle it because of my anxiety. I am scared of getting caught up in something bigger than I can manage.

But does that mean I can’t also appreciate that those people who get more involved in active civil disobedience, even approaching damage or property, might actually in the long run be achieving something? Does my habit of being relatively law abiding mean I must condemn those who are protesting in a different way? Or do I need to recognise that, as history appears to show, that peaceful protest and antagonistic protest are two sides of the same coin? The agitators need the peaceful protesters to show that the concerns are legitimate. The peaceful protesters need the agitators to raise the profile of those concerns in the first place.

Does peaceful protest work? Maybe. Does antagonist protest work? Maybe. Can one be effective without the other? I am not sure. But I’ve certainly found myself shifting stance of late, from thinking that antagonist protest is never acceptable to acknowledging while it is not right for me personally, I think that perhaps it’s important that there are people out there prepared to take more direct action to raise awareness of a cause. Do they do it in my name? No. Do I ultimately benefit? Perhaps.

I will always condemn meaningless violence – but is there a place in protest for meaningful violence, for meaningful antagonistic civil disobedience, when the media and government won’t listen to peaceful means? I don’t have any answers, but I am certainly asking more questions about it than I would have done a few weeks ago.

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