Thursday, 1 December 2016

For the Heroine Collective: Jean Rhys

Writing this series for The Heroine Collective has been such a joy, I can't believe this is my penultimate piece on the amazing and inspiring women who made their home on the Left Bank during the 1920s.

But, it is. And it is on Jean Rhys, absolutely one of my favourite writers.

Have a read

Saturday, 12 November 2016

On what might have been, being hurt, and taking action in Trump's new world

I can still picture it - the what might have been.

Her beaming smile lit up by the flashing lights. Her arms held aloft, the eyes shining with hope and gratitude. Her pantsuit. A pro choice woman in the Oval Office defending women’s reproductive rights. A pro choice woman in the White House.

It never happened. Instead, I woke up on Wednesday morning at 5am to see Trump winning. At 5.30am I started to cry - gut-wrenching sobs alone in my bed. Not a pro choice woman in the White House, with her flaws that we are willing to overlook in men. No, a lying megalomaniac who admits to sexually assaulting women instead. Not a woman with 40 years of public service experience - a woman who planned diligently and worked hard and proved herself again and again as the most qualified person for the job. No, a man who took up politics on a whim last year. Not a woman who stood up and boldly proclaimed that women’s rights are human rights. No, a man who sees women as objects for him to take, to grab, to grope, to abuse. 

I cried because it hurts. It hurts to know that a man can boast of sexual assault - the kind of assault all women have experienced - and win. It hurts to know that a man can be accused of sexual assault and rape, and win. It hurts to know that a man can indulge in grotesque, violent misogyny and whip up grotesque, violent misogyny, and win. 

And it hurts to know that in 2016, people looked at Trump’s lies, lack of experience, disdain for democracy and hatred of women and minorities, and choose him over a good, qualified woman. 

It hurts

So forgive me if I rail against the white men who have told me that it’s all going to be ok because nothing will really change, when you haven’t studied the state of abortion rights in the USA and haven’t read up on the Republican anti-abortion ticket. And forgive me if I rage against the white men who tell me that actually this is the best thing, because now everything will really change.

Forgive me if I don’t want to sacrifice reproductive rights on the altar of your revolution. 

It’s easier to say that everything will be okay when you are cushioned in your layers of white male privilege. It’s easier to say it’s the best thing that could happen when you are cushioned in your layers of white male privilege. 

As for me, I too am cushioned by my privilege as a white, middle-class woman. And I’m cushioned by distance too, of course. I cannot imagine the anger and fear felt by black women in America this week - 95% of voting black women voted for Clinton. I cannot imagine the fear and and hurt of the African American community, the American LGBT community, and those living in desperate poverty. Already we are hearing report after report of violent racism, attacks, insults and Muslim women afraid to wear their hijab in public. The fear is real and palpable and it not only hurts, it is deadly. 

So what happens now? 

The calls for unity and bridge-building have been coming in thick and fast. Boris Johnson has demanded we get on with it and stop with our ‘whingerama’ (another one there, shielded by layer after layer of privilege). The demands are clear: understand the hate and anger, reach out to those who voted for misogyny and racism and homophobia. 

But that’s just bullshit, baby. 

Because what does reaching out to hate mean? What does moving on, accepting it, mean?

To me, it means normalising it. If we accept a vote for hate, if we accept these awful and frightening views, then we create a new normal. Of course, these violent hatred has always been around. When I say a new normal, I mean an increased legitimising, excusing and accepting of misogyny and racism and homophobia - a reversal of progress; a regression. The hateful genie coming out of the bottle again. And that new normal openly and brazenly says it’s ok to grab women by the pussy and that it’s ok to promote conversion therapy and it’s ok to shout vile racist language and it’s ok to think that walls between nations are ever a good idea.

We don’t have to concede. We don’t have to reach out with an olive branch to hate. We don’t have to shrug and say ‘I’ll pipe down now that you won.’ Because as soon as you do that, you say it’s okay. And it’s not okay. IT IS NOT OKAY.

We’ve seen it in the last few months in the UK. The Brexiteers telling us to get over ourselves and stop complaining (they complained for 40 years but sure, after 4 months we should keep quiet about it right?). Well, no. I’m not going to stop complaining because I don’t want to see hate and nastiness towards minorities become more and more normal. I don’t want to see the sneering Mail headlines about ‘openly gay’ judges to become more and more normal. I don’t want to build bridges with racists, misogynists and homophobes. I want to challenge them. I want to change the world for the better. 

No one has to build a bridge towards someone who hates them. No one has to concede in the face of hate. Everyone has a responsibility to challenge these awful views. Everyone who gives a damn about fairness and justice and equality and liberation has a responsibility to stop misogyny and racism and homophobia from becoming more normalised, not less. 

We do not have to accept it. We do not have to say it’s okay. We do not have to go backwards. 

So what happens now? 

Well, don’t come to me for answers. I’m just one woman! 

But I read this post about ten things we can do post-Trump - to stop analysing and act - and really liked point number seven which said:

the theatre, literature, internet video channels, and progressive music artists: it’s up to you. Throw open your spaces and turn them into an alternative face-to-face media.’

I mean, I liked the other points as well but as a writer I feel like point seven is something I can actually do.

Because, as I said above, everyone who gives a damn about liberation has a responsibility to stop the increased normalising of hateful rhetoric, behaviour and politics. As a writer, I want to use my work politically. To provoke and push social change in my own small but still meaningful way. I’ve got some exciting projects lined up next year where I hope to do this more and more. 

For nearly a decade, I’ve used my political activism to create platforms for women to speak from. I want to do more of this. To keep speaking, shouting. To keep refusing to give in and refusing to concede. 

On Wednesday morning, I wrote:

Trump has let the sexism genie out the bottle. We cannot let it stay that way. We must join together and fight to protect women's rights in the months and years to come. To do otherwise is to accept that male violence against women is something that we should all be expected to live with.

I refuse to accept that.

I refuse to accept it.

I refuse to concede. 

I refuse, and I’ll act. 

Thursday, 10 November 2016

For the BBC: No, there should not be anonymity for rape defendants

Yesterday I was meant to be on BBC News talking about anonymity for rape defendants.

But then TRUMP happened. And the news cycle changed and they didn't want me on the news anymore. 

However, this is what I was planning on saying. The questions suggested to me were:

  • Should there be anonymity for rape defendants?
  • But isn't there more stigma attached to rape than other crimes?
  • Do you empathise with Farooq Siddique

No, I do not think we should have anonymity for rape defendants. 

Firstly because research from the police, from academics and from anecdotal evidence all points to the fact that naming men accused of rape supports open justice and improves women’s and men’s access to justice. 

I’d like to give two very important examples of this. 

The first was the John Worboys case - surely one of the most devastating and serious serial rape cases of recent times. It took a long time for the Met to take action but when they finally did, it was naming Worboys and releasing some details that meant more and more women came forward and they were able to gather the evidence they needed to charge him. The process of naming him changed this from being seen as a series of random attacks, and led to the conviction and sentencing of a serial rapist. 

The second case I’d like to mention is of Stuart Hall. After he was convicted, the police made a clear statement in support of naming him as an alleged offender. They made the point that if they had not named him, other victims would not have come forward and they would not have been able to convict him. 

Without naming Hall and Worboys, these serial sex offenders would still be free and their victims would not have had justice. Worboys raped dozens of women. How many more women would he have raped if he had not been named, if women had not then been able to come forward, and he been convicted. Hall’s victims would have been in the same situation as Savile’s - their abuser dead, their access to justice cut off. 

It’s not just me saying this. It’s the police, it’s academic research, it’s lawyers like Keir Starmer. 

It’s argued that men accused of rape should have anonymity because there is more stigma attached to rape than other crimes. 

Well, I would argue there should be stigma attached. But I’d also argue that there isn’t that much stigma attached to committing rape - if there were, then it would not be so terrifyingly common. 

It’s estimated that 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year, and there are 450,000 sexual offences committed in England and Wales every year. Of those rapes, only around 10-15% are reported, and of that 10-15% only 6.5% are convicted. So out of 85,000 women raped, only around 5,000 men will be found guilty. 

Most men who rape get away with it and most men who rape know they will get away with it. 

We only have to look at how celebrity men who abuse women are treated to understand that rape does not carry a huge stigma. 

After all, this week has proven that you can be accused of rape and sexual assault multiple times and still be elected to be the most powerful man in the world. 

So don't tell me that being accused of sexual offences gets in the way of a man's success. Not today. 

Of course I have empathy for the ordeal Mr Siddique has been through. However I think it’s important to note that he has seen justice done. The police dealt with a complaint, there wasn’t evidence to uphold it, and he is free to go. The due process of the law as been followed as it should be and if he chooses to press charges against his accuser then it will be followed in her case too. 

There are tens of thousands of women and men who will not see justice done - women and men who have been raped this year who will never get justice. They will be living with the emotional, physical and financial impact of being raped - from PTSD to sexual health complications. They will never get justice for what was done to them. 

As a feminist, but also as a human being, I have to fight to protect the laws that encourage access to open justice for all victims of crime. We cannot change laws that will restrict justice to those women and men who are already so unlikely to see their perpetrators in jail. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

For Trump's win shows how many men hate women

I wrote this article last night for

I thought when I woke up this morning, at 5am, that I would edit it to say that even though Trump's sexist rhetoric was frightening, in the end it couldn't win.

That was not the article I ended up writing.

The headline was not meant to be Trump's WIN shows how many men hate women

As my editor said when I filed it, "I'm sorry you had to write this."

Have a read.

And then we fight.

Monday, 31 October 2016

For the Heroine Collective: Josephine Baker

My series on the women of 1920s's Left Bank continues apace with this latest instalment on Josephine Baker.

From the Montmartre stage to the Resistance to Civil Rights marching in Washington, Josephine was one fabulous woman.

Also contains anecdote about my tattoo.

Have a read!

Sunday, 30 October 2016

For OD 50:50 - I Love Dick: What makes a feminist classic?

Subtitled: I have mixed feelings about Dick.

Because I thought that was a hilarious essay title!

I wrote a long read for Open Democracy about Chris Kraus' controversial, stimulating, confrontational and problematic novel, I Love Dick.

Not an easy task! But one I certainly enjoyed!

Have a read.

Friday, 21 October 2016

On being upgraded to the liberal elite

I am a member of the liberal elite. 

I know! Who knew? 

When I was a kid, I definitely was not one of the liberal elite. The people in power wanted us to be very clear on that. My brother and I were raised by my mum and her partner. Under a Tory government in the 1990s, being a young divorced mum of two and in a gay relationship to boot wasn’t easy. To say there was stigma attached to such things is an understatement. But as regular blog readers will know, we had a great childhood in a supportive and loving home. We didn’t want for love and care and support. We were encouraged to pursue our creativity – to write and to read and to paint, and we spent lots of time in libraries. Libraries were free, after all, and they were full of our favourite thing: books. 

But we weren’t the liberal elite, that’s for damn sure. We were coming up against institutionalised and legalised homophobia. We grew up under section 28, during a time when being gay was still criminalised in the military, when civil partnerships were a distant dream – let alone actual marriage! Gay couples couldn’t adopt, the age of consent was still uneven – all of these law changes that I think many of us take for granted now are still so, so new. So new. Homophobia was the norm. Being treated like a second class citizen, like a second class family, was the norm.   

Still. What does any of that matter. 

Because now, NOW, I am in the liberal elite. 

I know I am in the liberal elite because the political party who during my childhood sneered at my family, enacted laws that discriminated against my family members and blocked changes to laws that would have improved our equality: that party tells me I am. 

The party that deliberately enacted laws that institutionalised homophobia throughout my childhood now say that I am in the elite, and they – they! – are the party of the oppressed and the silenced. 

The party of privilege, the party that has used their privilege to stomp on the rights of the oppressed and silenced, they have the fucking GALL to call those who voted Remain ‘the elite’. 

The party that shut down the steel works where my granddad worked, that provoked the war in which my dad’s ship was bombed, that slashes the benefits which once helped families like mine – benefits which helped me go to sixth form* and therefore on to university – they have the fucking GALL to rebrand me as ‘the elite’.

That takes some ovaries of steel. That takes some massive cojones, right there. 

The re-casting of 48% of the electorate as the ‘liberal elite’ is the current method to dismiss any criticism of Brexit. It suggests that anyone questioning the sense of committing economic self-harm on the UK; anyone wanting to hold their friends and relatives from the EU tight to them; anyone who thinks that freedom of movement is a brilliant and exciting opportunity; anyone who points out that free fruit picking labour is not going to fix the problem of driven down wages; anyone who points out that Hard Brexit more closely resembles a helter-skelter of freefalling chaos than anything else – everyone who does this is now accused of being a sneering elitist. 

It would be bad enough. But the people accusing me and nearly half the electorate of being sneering elitists are members of the Tory Party. Are multi-millionaires who funded UKIP. Are a public educated ex-stock broker. Are tabloid newspaper proprietors who avoid tax and publish p0rn mags. 

Those accusing me and nearly half the electorate of being sneering elitists are those who are prepared to try and shut out and ban some of the most vulnerable and frightened and persecuted people in the world from coming to our country. 

They’re those who look at the faces of those vulnerable, frightened and persecuted people and demand we check their teeth. Like they’re cattle

And those accusing me and nearly half the electorate of being sneering elitists are those who are prepared to smash up the life-support system of people struggling in poverty and desperation. Labelling them shirkers. Forcing those with terminal illnesses to have endless health assessments. Taking away the support of those who need help, and casting them as villains. 

Those who attack the vulnerable, the poor, the persecuted. They accuse me of being in the elite. 

The fact is, I am kind of in the liberal elite. I am a middle-class white woman, and a writer to boot. I own my flat, I went to top-notch university and, apart from a brief period on the dole following redundancy, I have always been gainfully employed in the creative industries. I enjoy many of the benefits membership of the EU brings. My niece and nephew are in my life because of freedom of movement – it has enriched my life. And, of course, all this privilege shields me in lots of ways. 

But I am also the girl who grew up under a government keen on institutionalised homophobia. I am also the girl who grew up under a Tory party that shut down the steel works where my granddad worked and put in the order that led to my dad’s ship being bombed. 

And so I will not have those people tell me that I am elite. I will not have those people who have used their power and privilege in such destructive and cruel ways, people born into power and privilege that most of us can never imagine, tell me that my support of the EU makes me one of the elite. 

*as a sixth former I had a travel grant to get to school and when I was at university fees were still means tested in a meaningful way.