Tuesday, 24 January 2017

For BBC Radio Bristol: Why we protest

I was on BBC Radio Bristol yesterday morning talking about why I joined the Women's March in London.

I would argue that it is impossible to have a sensible discussion with someone who compares being accused of sexual assault by multiple women is like being accused of not liking courgettes.

But that is the situation I found myself in.

I'm about 30-40 minutes into the show if you want to listen.

I also contributed to this piece in the Wales Arts Review on why we marched. 

For Open Democracy: Guapa by Saleem Haddad

I reviewed Haddad's excellent debut, Guapa, for Open Democracy.

It's a brilliant read about the LGBT community in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Have a read.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

A loud woman, a nasty woman, a woman who marches and won't be silenced

On Friday night, I watched Trump’s inauguration with my chin on the floor, tears drying on my cheeks, and then did what everyone would do after such an event: I went to the pub. 

Here, I had a conversation with a couple of men I knew about my decision to go on the Women’s March on Saturday 21 January. They were, shall we say, pessimistic, critical even, of my decision. One friend argued that the march was a waste of time - that it wasn’t my fight, that I was patronising American women. The election was done, the votes were counted, Trump is President. What, really, was the point of marching? What, really, was the point of shouting back?

I must have carried some of that with me on to the march. That sense that in all of this, my voice didn't really matter. Standing on Duke Street with my friends, gazing in awe at the number of women, men and children around me carrying placards with bright, smiling faces, I struggled to join in with the chants. I struggled to raise my voice. What was my voice, after all? What did my voice matter?

And then. 

I remembered Reclaim the Night, and the joy I felt in marching on those chilly winter evenings with my sisters.  

So I took a deep breath. Then another. 

And then I shouted as loud as I possibly could:

Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no.

The call caught on. Women joined in. Together we shouted this repudiation to the sexual assaults Trump boasted of committing against women. 

Two hours later, I felt the thrill of shouting down St James Street:

what do we want?

And hearing more than a hundred women answer me:

EQUALITY!

When do we want it?

NOW!

My voice. My quiet, high voice. The voice that one colleague once told me he tuned out of listening to. The laugh that one man told me was the most annoying laugh he’d ever heard. The voice that man after man online has declared I should just shut up. There was MY VOICE, loudly proudly ringing out in the centre of London, with hundreds of women joining in. 

When we’re told that marching on days like yesterday can achieve nothing, I wonder what our detractors think an achievement is. 

None of us marching are stupid. We know that at the sight of three million women and men on every continent, Trump isn’t going to shrug, resign and hand over to Hillary. We know that the march wasn’t about changing the result of the election. 

What marching achieved yesterday was a show of solidarity. A show of sisterhood. It achieved a demonstration that we, women across the world, were going to use our voices to challenge heteropatriarchy and white supremacy. It achieved a huge noise. And for every individual woman there, it achieved something else too: the knowledge and recognition that we have a voice and we are not afraid to use it. 

And that matters.

Because, as I’ve written before, a lot of men have a lot invested in women staying silent. 

They want us silent so we don’t report the violence they commit against us. They want us silent and passive and meek so that we don't challenge their power or their entitlement to women’s bodies. During the march, I spoke to a domestic abuse survivor who told me how her ex would target her throat - physically shutting her up. In my experience of online abuse, I know how much violent men like to focus on our mouths. Women’s silence is immensely valuable. So much depends on us keeping quiet. So much depends on us putting up and shutting up. 

They want us quiet. They want us meek. 

Well, yesterday we showed all of those who desire our silence that we won’t shut up. We won’t comply. We won’t be the women they want. 

We’ll be the women they don’t want. The loud women, the nasty women, the bolshy women who shout and yell and challenge and accuse and point the finger and fight back and speak, speak, speak. We’re the bloody, bloody-minded women. And yesterday we stood together and said we are not going to be quiet. We are not going to be quiet about sexual assault. We are not going to quiet as men attack our wombs and our rights over our own bodies. We are not going to be the women they want. We are going to be loud and angry and we are going to fight. 

When the men on Friday and the men on the internet tell us that this is not our fight, I say no. It is our fight. Because when a man sexually assaults one (or, allegedly, 12) of us, and gets away with it, that re-enforces the idea that men have free access and entitlement to every woman’s body, everywhere. When a group of men try and destroy the laws women have fought for, to take away the right to bodily autonomy of women in the States, then that sets a precedent to those fighting to destroy our rights everywhere. And, of course, Trump’s policies on climate change will hit the poorest women in the world first, and it will hit those women hardest. This is not just about America. We are all affected by this. Every woman has skin in this game. 

But even if we didn’t. It would still matter that we marched. Because when women across the world ask us for our sisterhood, when they ask us for our solidarity, we don’t ignore that call. We stand up. We reach out. We stretch our hands across borders and grasp theirs. 

Because they want us separate. They want us splintered. They want us turned against one another in a cat fight. 

And we will not be the women they want. We will be the angry, loud, bloody fighting women. We will stand together in solidarity against this attack. 

On Saturday, I raised my voice with LGBTQ women, women of colour, working class women, refugee women. I stood with my sisters and with men too. I heard women singing and women shouting and women reading poetry and women showcasing their art and women refusing to be silenced. I marched in solidarity with 100,000 women and men in London, and 3 million around the world, and it felt glorious. 

But one march is not enough. The energy, the noise, the fight continues now. As Angela Davis said in Washington yesterday: 

“The next 1,459 days of the Trump administration will be 1,459 days of resistance: Resistance on the ground, resistance in the classrooms, resistance on the job, resistance in our art and in our music.

"This is just the beginning “

We will resist. We will shout. We will be loud and angry and we will not be the women they want us to be. 

And if any man tells you that there is no point in marching, that there is no point to your voice, that this is not your fight, that you should put up and shut up?

Well then sisters: be like Madonna. 

And say to them: FUCK YOU





Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Oh no! Not another post about street harassment.

Yes, another post about street harassment, because sometimes when it happens you need to write it out. 

This year I decided to start ballet again after a long hiatus. It was my second class and the teacher told me I should come along to the intermediate class as well as the beginners. I was feeling buoyant. I was so happy! I’d found myself as a dancer again, and, damn it, I was good at it. I had exercise-related endorphins cruising through my bloodstream. It was great, I felt great – I felt talented and strong and muscular. 

Then I walked into Bedminster Asda and a drunk man eating chicken in the vestibule made a sexually obscene comment at me as I went by. 

And, just like that, I didn’t feel great and talented and strong and muscular anymore. I felt small and angry and weak and uncomfortable. 

Why this one? Why did this one bother me so much – more than the drunk guy on the street the other week shouting after me when I ignored him, or the school kids following me to the bus stop going on about my arse? 

Maybe it was because the comment was particularly sexually aggressive. Maybe it was because I knew I had to walk back out the shop, past him again, and he would repeat the harassment. Which, of course, he did. 

But mostly because it was that crash from feeling good, from feeling strong, from revelling in my own subjectivity, to being forced into being object again. 

That’s the thing about street harassment. 

Street harassment is a reminder that no matter how great we feel, no matter how strong and powerful we feel, we are still women living in a patriarchal society. It’s a reminder that no matter how successful you feel, a drunk man eating chicken in Asda can still try and reduce you. It’s a reminder not to let your guard down, not to forget to be a little bit, just a little bit, afraid.  

I wasn’t feeling afraid. I was feeling happy and strong and powerful. I’d let my guard down. I’d forgotten to look out for the man on the street. And then, BAM! Just like that. I was reminded. 

And that’s what hurts. That’s what drags you down. That feeling that you can’t escape being a woman in patriarchal society. The feeling that some man can always reduce you to an object. The reminder that the streets don’t belong to you in the way they belong to men. That as a woman in public, you are always somehow always on display and a man can always drag you down. 

I don’t want to bring everything back to Trump, although that seems to be where my mind frequently goes at the moment. But it’s awful enough to know that as a woman in public you are a target for harassment without being forced to remember that the most powerful man in the world legitimises this kind of violent, degrading misogyny. 

Sometimes you can laugh it off. Sometimes you can send a witty tweet, a shrug and a smile and turn it into a joke. 

And sometimes you can’t. 

Sometimes it’s just too exhausting. To remember, week in, week out, what your status is in this society. Sometimes it’s just too exhausting to pull yourself up, to fight back, to claim your space back as your own space

And that’s how street harassment works. That’s why it still works. 

Because no matter how strong and successful you feel, a drunk man eating chicken in a supermarket can still reduce you to feeling like shit. He can still remind you that you are a woman living in patriarchal society, and the streets don’t belong to you in the way they belong to him. 

Monday, 16 January 2017

Trump, Gove and the grotesque glitz of the man-cave

So the Times and Gove trumped (sorry, I can’t help it) other media outlets and sitting politicians to be the first UK newspaper and MP to interview the President Elect. 

(an aside: on New Year’s Day I woke up with an overwhelming sense of depression because so long as it was 2016, Trump wouldn’t be President until next year. Now it is next year and he’ll be President this week. Shit)

Amidst the blithering and blathering, the decision to make his son-in-law Middle East Peace Envoy, the refusal to call refugees by their name and instead call them ‘illegals’, the claim that Scottish ancestry made him stingy… it was this phrase of Gove’s that stood out for me:

glitzy golden man-cave

I know there are more important things in the interview which better political brains than mine will deal with. 

But. 

Glitzy golden man-cave

I’ve become increasingly concerned with the creeping normalisation of fascism over the past seven months. And somehow, this phrase really hit that nerve for me.

Partly it’s the infantilising. Partly it’s the reducing of grotesque wealth and inequality showcased by golden elevators and chandeliers and billions of undeserved inherited dollars into a man-cave. Partly it’s the idea of a man-cave itself – a vomit-inducing construct where men can escape women and be left alone in a pre-feminist space. All of it put together aims to soften the dangerous immaturity, grotesque wealth and violent sexism of Donald Trump. 

And that’s not okay. 

Let’s take the latter point. The man-cave, as I say, is the idea that men need space away from women and our annoying demands and our shrill voices and our bloody wombs. A space where they can be men and not be bothered by the political correctness feminism so annoyingly pushes upon them. A man-cave for cave-men. Yeah. Where men can be blokes. Top bantz. Lads R Us. 

As things are going, Trump’s whole political establishment is one big man-cave. He’s promoted man after man after man – multiple men who have had domestic abuse allegations made against them. Trump himself has, of course, been accused of sexual assault and has  boasted about committing sexual assault. So far, his incoming administration has threatened legislation that protects women’s bodily autonomy. Meanwhile, his attitude towards women including his wife proves what little respect he has for us. 

So we shouldn’t be softening Trump’s exclusion and treatment of women with phrases like ‘man-cave’. We should be making a loud, a very loud, noise about a man who treats women like objects and excludes us from power. Who doesn’t respect women as equals. Who uses and assaults women. And who enacts policies that directly threaten women’s freedoms and equality. 

Similarly we shouldn’t be trying to soften the ugly reality of Trump’s huge wealth, his tendency towards nepotism, and his plans to entrench economic inequality in the USA, by gasping in awe at all the glitz and gold. This is a man who inherited vast amounts of money which he then spent on a grim display of tasteless wealth, who refuses to publish his tax returns, who boasted that avoiding federal taxes made him smart, and who is promising to cut taxes for the wealthy like him. This is a man who is playing fast and loose with the Constitution when he divests his companies to his sons. This is a man accused of ill-treatment of the staff that made him rich. 

I know we have to accept the election result and that the UK has to work in a world where Trump is President. But I can’t stop feeling angry at the way we are bending over backwards to ignore his dangerous racism and sexism, and instead are softening it with bullshit terms like ‘man-cave’. From this interview where his use of the world ‘illegals’ instead of ‘refugees’ goes unchallenged, to Theresa May falsely claiming that he apologised for his sexual assault comments (and actions, come on!), nothing is achieved by pretending that Trump is anything but a violently misogynistic and racist man who came to power on the boasts of violent misogyny and racism. 

We don’t have to refuse to challenge him on that. We don’t have to pretend that he apologised for groping women’s genitals or shrug as if it no longer matters that he wants to ban Muslims from America, or smile along with him as he calls those fleeing from war and persecution ‘illegals’. 

Because when we do this, we normalise his actions. We normalise his language. We normalise fascism and violence. 

When we don’t challenge Trump on his bullshit, we send a message that we think violent misogyny and racism is okay. That it’s acceptable. 

So I’m not saying that May shouldn’t go and meet him. I get that she has to. But I am saying that she should hold him to account, and not excuse or diminish his groping of women. 

And I’m not saying that the Times shouldn’t interview him. Of course they should. I am saying that they should send a journalist to do it, and one who will hold him to account. 

We cannot smile and nod and give a Fonz-style thumbs up to a man who boasts of his violent misogyny and racism. We cannot pretend that his behaviour and his words are ok. We can hold him to account for what he says and does. We should do this. We must do this. 

Otherwise, what does that say about us? And what does that say about what 2017 will hold? 

Saturday, 7 January 2017

No Tim Stanley, Trump’s Presidency won’t be awesome on abortion


One of the first acts Obama took when he became President in 2009 was to overturn a law banning federal aid to organisations that gave advice or support on abortion. The law had been introduced by George Bush (remember when he seemed like the worst Presidential choice the USA had ever made??) and was totally devastating. When he reversed this destructive legislation, Obama said:

For the past eight years, they have undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning in developing countries. For these reasons, it is right for us to rescind this policy and restore critical efforts to protect and empower women and promote global economic development.”

I remember crying with happiness when he changed this law. I cried because, as Obama said, providing abortion and contraceptive services to women is key to our empowerment. It recognises our right to bodily integrity and gives us an element of control over our lives, and over our economic, education and professional potential. 

The overturning of this dangerous law was Obama’s promise of change, of ‘yes we can’, in action. It signalled that we were moving forward on women’s rights. That we were winning the argument - proving that giving women control over our reproductive health was the right and proper thing to do. 

What a difference eight years make. 

I don’t write about abortion rights often because whenever I do I get abuse. I’m breaking that self-protecting ban today in response to Tim Stanley’s Telegraph article, where he suggests that Trump’s Presidency could be more awesome than awful - partly through his dedication to eroding women’s hard-won right to bodily autonomy. 

In his article, Stanley writes:

 3. Abortion gets rarer

The numbers of terminations have actually been falling under Barack Obama, thankfully, but the Democrats have resisted attempts to remove public funding – putting pro-life taxpayers in a horrible position.

Trump and the Republican Congress should cut the money supply. Paul Ryan, the Speaker, has said he wants to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood, which is a good sign.

Men should really just stop writing about abortion. Just please, stop. 

Because Stanley is not just grossly offensive in his suggestion that stripping away women’s rights is ‘awesome’. 

He’s plain wrong. 

Firstly, one of the reasons terminations have fallen under Obama is because of a rolling back on the policy promoting and funding abstinence-only sex education, which left young people ill-prepared for sexual relationships and meant they were less likely to use contraception. It’s pretty basic stuff: the best way to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and therefore abortions is to provide women and men with decent, comprehensive sex education and access to contraception. Condoms are, quite simply, the best way to prevent pregnancy. When you don’t give people this information or easy access to condoms, then you’re going to end up with a lot of cases of unwanted pregnancy and an increased rate of STDs. In America under Bush, this is exactly what happened. 

Secondly, denying women access to abortion services does not decrease the number of abortions. This is not some feminist fantasy. In countries where abortion is illegal - and that country includes our own thanks to the fact that abortion is still criminalised in Northern Ireland - women still seek out illegal and unsafe abortions. Across the world, 21.6 million women seek unsafe abortions each year, and 47,000 women will die as a result. Denying women access to our right of bodily integrity quite literally kills us. 

Giving women access to their rights and sovereignty over our own bodies is absolutely key to women’s liberation and gender equality. If we cannot have control over our reproductive choices, over our own bodies, then we cannot have control over our lives. 

Obama knew this when he repealed the law that denied women life-saving and life-controlling advice on contraception, reproductive health and abortion. 

The Republicans know it too. 

And, deep in his heart, Tim Stanley knows it too. 

They know that restricting abortion access will do absolutely nothing to reduce the number of abortions. 

They know that slashing Planned Parenthood and therefore denying women and men access to contraception and reproductive health advice will in fact increase the rate of unwanted pregnancy and therefore increase the need for abortions. 

They know that women who are pregnant and don’t want to be will risk the law and their own health in order to terminate that pregnancy. 

And they know that restricting abortion brings pain, suffering, erodes women’s empowerment, increases inequality and destroys a woman’s right to her bodily autonomy. 

They know that restricting abortion leads to more women dying. 

They know all of this. 

So I say to Tim Stanley: stop pretending. If you think Trump’s Presidency is going to be awesome because it’ll restrict abortion, what you really mean is that Trump’s Presidency will be awesome because it is going to destroy a key human right that all women are entitled to - the right to bodily autonomy that you, as a man, take wholly for granted. 


You think Trump’s Presidency is going to be awesome, because you, Trump, Pence, Ryan and that whole sorry bunch of vile, privileged men don’t believe women are entitled to this right. 

Friday, 6 January 2017

For BBC Radio Bristol: The John Darvall show

I was invited onto the John Darvall show on BBC Radio Bristol to talk about being Spike Island's newest writer-in-residence and to generally bang on about how much I love 1920s Paris.

I was interviewed by the very lovely Jonathan Ray.

You can listen to the interview on iPlayer for the next 29 days.

I start 2 hours and 11 minutes in (after Van Morrison Moon Dance) and then there's a song (Rock the Boat) and then I finish 2 hours 32 minutes in.

I just listened back and feel I did a good job if I say so myself!

Have a listen