Monday, 8 December 2014


Hello you lovely lot.

Christmas is just around the corner and so it is time to do my obligatory 'buy my book for your relatives it makes a great Christmas pressie' post.

First up, my novel published by Our Street books.

It's called Greta and Boris: A Daring Rescue and although it is aimed at an audience of 7-11 year olds, it's a rip roaring adventure story that can be enjoyed by grown-ups as much as by kids.

So what's it all about?

WellGreta’s best friend is her cat Boris. However, little does she realise her bewhiskered buddy is actually the Prince of the Kingdom of Cats. So when he is kidnapped by the Rat King, a young warrior cat named Kyrie Mi-ke is sent to find Greta, and together they face a mystical and magical adventure to bring Boris home again.

Greta must face the challenge of the staircase of the autumn leaves; cross Cloud Top Land and the Milky Sea; end the war between the two tribes of mice and face the truth of the Millpond; before facing the Rat King himself.

I think it's pretty great. But don't take my word for it! Here's what the critics say, starting with some feedback from North Somerset's schoolchildren:

It was really good hearing her inspirations for her book and how it was written and then illustrated.” said Ben

Her book sounds very emotional and heart warming. If I had made this book, I would be very proud of myself.” said Emily

Meeting Sian Norris was amazing because she went to Backwell School and then became an author.” said Imogen. 

Bidisha reckons: 

"Greta and Boris is touching, exciting, cheeky and vivid, with wonderful characters, a strong narrative and sudden delightful details. It is an adventure that is both heartstopping and heartmelting, at once sentimental and comfortingly predictable. The story's sprinkled with sparkling details, with each location fully realised and a joy to traverse."

And then there's the Amazon reviews: 

"Absolutely loved Greta and Boris. Exciting, brilliantly illustrated and with a beautiful message. I would recommend this book as a prezzie for all your grandchildren, nieces, nephews and very own kiddleywinks."

"A great story, well written with a lovely message. I would recommend this to anyone with children."

So there you have it. Greta and Boris: A Daring Rescue is the perfect stocking filler for the children and grown-ups in your life, particularly if they love books and/or cats. 

And that's not all...

Because when you are Christmas shopping, you might fancy buying a little pressie for yourself too - maybe in the form of two short stories for your Kindle. The Boys on the Bus is my Kindle single and it's the perfect treat for when you want to put your feet up with a cup of tea and a book after doing all your Christmas shopping. Here's the lowdown:

A writer attending a literary dinner recounts the traumatic experience of having her hair set on fire when she was a schoolgirl 12 years earlier. 

As she confronts the memory, she realizes how through telling stories, we try to find closure from the trauma caused by violence. 

This short story explores the nature of violence, memory and trauma in a sensitive and lyrically written way. 

This book also contains the short story Anna's Interlude. 

A married woman living during the Second World War embarks on an affair with a young man in the Navy. Through their affair she discovers how unhappy her marriage has made her. She becomes determined to leave her husband and build a new life, a life that is true to herself. But when the letters from her lover come to an abrupt end, she finds she is trapped all over again. 

And here's what people have to say:

"A moving account of bullying, written with clarity and totally free of self pity or false sentiment. Really effective use of repetition ("The boys on the bus set my hair on fire") which puts a pulse through the piece registering the effect of the flashback return of trauma. It's also a positive story of personal achievement and a moving on despite...."

"Absolutely brilliant book, incredibly powerful and thought provoking."

The Boys on the Bus costs £1.53 - what a bargain! 

Finally, because I am a generous person who wants to promote the fantastic creative work of people I know and love, here are a couple more recommendations. 

Gaptooth's debut album is a slice of electro pop perfection with a political edge. Ladykillers is just bloody brilliant. 

If you prefer your fiction to be of the gothic Victorian horror variety, then you can't go wrong with my publisher stable mate Ben Gwalchmai's Purefinder

And for the academic in your life, try the Para-Academic Handbook, edited by the fabulous Alex Wardrop and Deborah Withers. 


Monday, 24 November 2014

My human rights shouldn't be up for debate because I'm a woman

There’s been a lot of debate lately. 

The debate about whether comedians whose stock in trade are rape jokes in a society where around 1,600 women are raped every week should be on primetime TV.

The debate as to whether a self-styled ‘pick up artist’ should have a visa to enter the UK. This is a man who – in a society where there are 1.2 million incidents of domestic abuse every year in the UK – looks at the Duluth Model (a chart describing different forms of intimate partner abuse) and describes it as a checklist of 'how to make her stay'.

The debate about whether Ched Evans should be allowed to train at Sheffield United; the debate about whether the rape he committed was proper rape; the debate as to whether women should keep their knickers on and their mouths shut if they want to ‘avoid’ rape; the debate about whether men just can’t help themselves if 'they're whipped into a storm' (yes they can). 

There’s been the debates about whether Bill Cosby’s career should be over after multiple rape accusations; the debate about whether the freedom to promote violence against women is a freedom of speech issue (because only men’s freedom of speech matters – who cares that when you have a woman in a choke hold she can’t speak); the debates about whether a debate between two men on abortion should go ahead (this was never about whether anti-choice arguments were being silenced, it was about men using women’s bodies as objects to debate).

Debate, debate, debate. 

What the last few weeks have shown women all over the UK is that our rights are not absolute. They’re not guaranteed. Right to live free from violence? Right to freedom of movement? Right to bodily autonomy? It’s up for debate. 

Domestic abuse, stalking, threats? Time to debate men’s freedom of speech.

Rape? Let’s debate whether women are in truth the ones to blame. Let’s debate whether rape is really rape. 

Abortion? Let’s debate whether women can actually be trusted with their right to bodily autonomy. 

One of the arguments of feminism has been that in a patriarchal society, women are not seen as fully human. The human is the default male and women are positioned as other. 

The debates of the last few weeks seem to suggest this. If we saw women as fully human with equal access to the same human rights as men, then we wouldn’t debate whether women are responsible for the rape committed against them. We wouldn’t debate whether a man’s freedom of speech to incite violence against women is more important than a woman’s right to live free from the impact of male violence. And we wouldn’t debate whether a man’s right to tell a woman that she has no right to her bodily autonomy is more important than her actual right to bodily autonomy. 

Instead, we would recognise that the only person to blame for rape is the rapist. We would recognise that inciting violence against women doesn’t harm the speaker’s freedom of speech – it harms women’s. We would recognise that women have an absolute right to bodily autonomy. 

But we don’t see women as fully human. Our bodies are still battlegrounds. And so our bodies are used as objects in debates between men. 

So much of the debates these last few weeks have posited the right of women to live free from violence against men’s right to freedom of speech.

It’s such bullshit. Because men’s freedom of speech isn’t threatened by the cancelling of Dapper Laughs, or the denial of a visa to Julien Blanc. 

But women’s freedom of speech sure is threatened in an online culture where speaking out on these issues leads to rape and death threats. 

And women’s freedom of speech sure is threatened in a rape culture where male violence leads to around 1,600 rapes every week and the rape of vulnerable women has been effectively decriminalised

Women’s freedom of speech sure is threatened in a society where there are 1.2 million incidences of domestic abuse every year and two women a week are killed by a partner or ex partner. 

After all, as I said before, it’s hard to have a voice when you’re caught in a choke hold by a man who sees violence as a way to ‘pick up’ women. 

So enough of this so-called debate. It's a nonsense. There's no debate when it comes to rape, when it comes to domestic abuse. We don’t debate the crimes committed against men. We don’t invite women into hallowed halls to discuss dispassionately whether men deserve their full human rights. We don’t look at the crimes committed against men, and discuss whether they are real crimes at all. We don’t look at male victims of crimes and say they should have kept their mouths shut. 

My right to live free from violence isn’t up for debate. My right to bodily autonomy isn’t up for debate. If we saw women as fully human, none of this would be up for debate.  

Friday, 24 October 2014

The Boys on the Bus - a sample of a story

When I was 17 years old, two boys set my hair on fire when I was on the bus.

Which wasn't very nice of them, was it?

It's an experience that obviously stayed with me but it's not something I really thought about much. It was just something that had happened, something a bit odd, a bit cruel.

Then earlier this year, I kept seeing women being attacked online with the line 'go die in a fire'. And it started me thinking about how being set on fire, is something that has happened to women over the centuries. Witches, heretics, adulteresses in old times. Today, violent men set their homes on fire to kill their partners and children. And I also started thinking about hair, and women's hair, and how destroying women's hair is another long-standing attack.

So I was having all these thoughts, about fire, and hair, and women, and what happened to me. I didn't know what to do with these thoughts. I didn't know how to process them.

And in the end I decided to do what I do best. I wrote a story.

It's called The Boys on the Bus and you can buy it for the bargain price of £1.53 for your Kindle. You can also buy it for your Kindle app. Even better, once you've read The Boys on the Bus you'll find a second story called Anna's Interlude.

I'm so proud of both these stories and I hope you will enjoy them.

And to whet your appetite, here's a sample of The Boys on the Bus.

The boys on the bus set my hair on fire.

This, then, is a literary dinner. This is the world of books and plays and poetry and conversation, washed down with good wine, and a smile. This is the world that I dreamed of when I was sat on the bus, daringly wearing my sixth form clothes, my eyes focused on the metal arch of the seat in front of me, my ears stubbornly silencing the noise from the seats behind me. 

I’ve made it. I’ve made it here, and I’m sat beside someone who I think I can now call a friend. She is a writer whose name you will probably have heard of. Opposite me, just to the left, is a pretty blonde-haired publicist who lives near to where I used to live. We have talked about that, in the way you do with strangers, trying to find a point of shared experience. Just to my right is the world-famous writer we are here to celebrate. You will have heard of her. You will perhaps have sat there, on the school bus, her GCSE syllabus-approved novel jostling for space with a lunch box, exercise books, pencils and illicit packets of chewing gum and fags in your backpack. 

I’ve made it. I’ve made it this far, to this restaurant where the chatter, and the clatter of cutlery against crockery, is loud and buzzing. It’s hard to hear, and so the world-famous writer leans in to ask me to repeat what I said. 

The boys on the bus set my hair on fire. 

I have told this story before, with a smile, and a shake of my hair, long now, long and glossy, good hair, free from charred flakes that lingered, stinking, for days afterwards. 

Tonight though, I don’t tell it funny. Tonight, in the dimmed light of the restaurant, it doesn’t sound like a story to tell with a side smile and a shrug and a wide-eyed, ‘I know, right?’

The boys on the bus set my hair on fire. 

We are talking, at this literary dinner, about bullying. We are talking about the ritual of bullying. We are talking about how the patterns of bullying hark back to rituals that centred on cruelty.  My friend, the writer you may have heard of, has been writing a story where boys go back to the Bible to find examples of ritualistic cruelty. In the Bible, they discovered the clues they needed to become the most famous bullies in the school. The world-famous writer wrote the book on the rituals children play out to torment other children. Perhaps you have read it. 

It was ritual for those boys on the bus. It was ritual for the boys on the bus, when they set my hair on fire, on that sticky May day, eleven years before. 

But why? the world-famous writer asks. 

They didn’t like my brother, I reply. 

I’m seventeen years old, and the bus is winding its way along the road from the bus stop outside my school, swaying slightly as it goes with the weight of its load. It is winding its way, the same way once, twice, three times a day, to the bus stop at the end of my road, and eventually to its final destination at the currently-under-refurbishment depot. 

On the bus, we sit in obedient pairs. Some, like me, wear our sixth form clothes. But most of the pairs are in the cheap polyester trousers and the shirts that were once white but are now one smudge of grey. The seats force us into order, but our behaviour refuses to be confined into neat, detached rows. 

Buy your copy of The Boys on the Bus today

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Show a little empathy, John Grisham

John Grisham, the famous crime writer, has been condemned today for his comments regarding sentences for men who view images of child abuse. Just to be clear – it is not ‘child p0rn’ – the latter word implies consent. These are images of child abuse. 

[Just so you know, I have to spell p0rn that way because on previous occasions of writing about similar issues I have had search terms come to my blog that have made me wonder if I should call the police] 

Grisham argues that men who view images of child abuse online, but who would never actively abuse a child, do not deserve harsh prison sentences. He argues:

We’ve got prisons now filled with guys my age, 60-year-old-white men, in prison, who have never harmed anyone. Who would never touch a child, but they got online one night, started surfing around, probably had too much to drink whatever and pushed the wrong buttons, and went too far and went into child p0rn or whatever.’ 

Excuse me while I try and lift my head up from my desk. 

There are so many things wrong with Grisham’s statement I don’t know where to start. But we could start with the fact that in the US, the prisons are certainly not filled with 60-year old white men. 

But the main issue with his comments is his utter lack of empathy with the children who are being abused in these films and images. What is so startling about Grisham’s comments is the refusal to acknowledge the children. His empathy only extends to the men who look like him – the white 60-year-old American male. He is determined in his comments to ignore the actual victims. Instead, he recasts the victims as the men who look at the images.   

Grisham argues that men like his friend, who is in prison for viewing images of child abuse, would never harm a child. But what he is ignoring is that in searching for and looking at the images in the first place, his friend *is* harming the child. It’s not rocket science. Through his search, he is feeding an industry that sexually exploits children, as well as fuelling the demand for that industry. 

This colossal lack of empathy is not a one-off, and the comments are not unique to Grisham. Similar arguments to his were made when Chris Langham was was found guilty on charges of possessing child pornography and made to sign the sexual offenders register, or when Peter Townshend was placed on the sex offenders register for five years in 2003, after admitting he had used his credit card to access a website bearing the message "click here for child p0rn". Both men claimed ‘research’ as their reason for accessing these images. Their defenders argued that as a result they shouldn’t be criminalised. Looking for these images as research, they posed, was different than looking at them because you’re a paedophile. After all, the debate ran, these men weren’t getting sexual pleasure from these images. So what’s the problem?

But what these arguments missed, and what Grisham misses, is that it doesn’t matter to a child why a man chooses to look at the images of them being raped. It doesn’t stop the rape, because one man is looking for research, and one man is looking because he’s drunk, and one man is looking because he gets off on it. The individual viewer’s motivations don’t change what has happened to that child. It doesn’t matter why a man looks, because the fact remains that a child has still been abused for them to view. 

As long as men are looking for these images for whatever reason, people will continue to make them. And that is why the men who view these images need to face justice. They’re complicit in the abuse, whether they like it or not. 

How could Grisham justify his comments, if faced with someone whose abuse was filmed and shared online? How could he explain to that child that his friend didn’t mean any harm? What difference would his friend’s drunken justifications make to the child? It wouldn’t undo the harm done to that child. It wouldn’t change anything. 

When men look at images of child abuse, they are committing a crime. They are complicit in the rape and abuse of a child. Their motivation doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to the child being abused, and it certainly doesn’t matter to their abusers. All the former knows is that someone is willing to pay to view their pain. And all the latter knows is that someone is willing to pay them to abuse a child. 

Think about that, John Grisham. Try to feel empathy for someone who doesn’t look like you. Think about that child, and how your friend’s ‘mistake’ is complicit in the abuse of that child. Then maybe think about apologising. And then maybe donate some dollars to a charity tackling child abuse. 

If you need to talk to someone about rape or abuse, you can call Rape Crisis on 0808 802 9999. You can also call the NSPCC on: 0808 800 5000

And I know none of my readers are as rich as John Grisham. But if you want to, you can donate to Rape Crisis or the NSPCC and help tackle sexual violence.  

Monday, 13 October 2014

The Butterfly Psyche Theatre’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

On Friday evening I headed across town to the haunting and evocative setting of Arnos Vale cemetery to watch the Butterfly Psyche Theatre’s production of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – adapted from Anne Bronte’s novel. The company have been running a season of Bronte adaptations – including the perhaps better known Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

The novel’s narrative is mainly told through a letter from Gilbert Markham to his friend, detailing the arrival of the new tenant at Wildfell Hall, Helen Graham. The middle part of the novel is written as Helen’s diary, before switching back to Gilbert’s letter.  

This structure informed the performance of the play – with two actors taking on all the character roles and using the framing of a letter and a diary to directly narrate to the audience what was happening in the story. This successfully meant that the audience was able to negotiate what is quite a complex story, while gaining an insight into the inner lives of Gilbert and Helen. 

The play began with the male actor addressing the audience as Gilbert. He draws us into the world of his village – with the woman actor taking on the role of mother, sister, brother, landlord, and the wickedly flirtatious Eliza Millward, before entering the stage as Helen. It’s a real skill to be able to perform such a diverse set of roles in such quick succession and allow the audience to latch on to the change of character without feeling jarred, and it’s a skill she had. Changing her posture, her smile, the way she moved her eyes – these subtle movements helped the audience understand straight away whether she was, for example, Helen or Eliza. 

Gilbert’s narration meant that as well as the action on stage, we were able to comprehend and empathise with his changing feelings towards Helen, as slowly he finds himself in love with her – and she with him. We see a young man grappling with the first realisation of love and feel with him his shock and horror when he believes Helen has betrayed his love. 

The story then switches, and it is Helen who takes centre stage, as the narrative voice moves to her diary and the story of her increasingly violent marriage to Arthur Huntingdon. 

The devastating centre of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a story of domestic abuse, and Helen’s struggle to decide whether to stay, and remain in a violent marriage, or go and risk the scandal and censure of her peers. It’s a very radical and brutally honest story – made even more so when you consider that Bronte wrote this novel when women didn’t have much legal status at all – and certainly not in cases of divorce. 

The actor playing Helen beautifully depicted how marriage turned her from a spirited and principled young girl full of verve and energy, to a grown woman who is trying to survive in a loveless and violent marriage. The actors powerfully brought to life Helen’s internal struggle – she optimistically hopes for a better future with her husband, whilst knowing that in reality such a belief is hopeless. As a result, she is torn between wanting to stay, and knowing she must leave.  

Just as in 1848, when the novel was written, readers and audiences today still question ‘why did she stay for so long’. It’s a question we don’t just ask of Helen, but of all women in violent relationships. The ‘why doesn’t she just leave?’ question has echoed through the ages – dangerously ignoring the role of the perpetrator and the dynamics of male violence against women. Through witnessing Helen as she battles with the expectations put on her by society, her fears for her son, and her dying hopes for a better future, the audience perhaps are brought closer to understanding the impact of domestic abuse, and the difficulties women face in escaping violent marriages. 

Having two actors play all the characters meant that much of the novel was cut – for example the storyline involving Walter Hargrave, and the scenes where Huntingdon tries to corrupt his son by giving him wine and teaching him to insult his mother. As a result, some of the novel’s darkness and horror was lost, as both of those storylines bring to life even more just how impossibly placed Helen was. She knows that if she leaves her husband, she risks being preyed upon by men like Hargrave, and will be seen by her peers as a disgraced woman who is up for grabs. She also knows that if she doesn’t leave, Huntingdon’s influence on her son will increase, and the cycle of abuse re-enforced. 

But the effect of these cuts meant that the play could distil the two key core developments of the novel – that of Gilbert from a slightly frivolous and fickle boy to a loving and mature man, and of Helen’s journey towards freedom and a mutual, respectful love. As a result, the production gave the audience access into the inner lives of these two complex and challenging characters in a very personal and powerful way.  

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

If not now, when?

September was a good month. It was sunny, and didn’t rain much, and I went on holiday and turned 30. Pretty good month. 

It was also the month 11 women were killed in the UK by suspected male violence. Follow that link to the Counting Dead Women blog see their names. It’s important we remember their names - Palmira Silva, Alice Gross, Hannah Witheridge, Leighann Duffy, Glynis Bensley, Pennie Davis, Serena Hickey, Dorothy Brown, Nicola Mckenzie, Davinia Loynton, Lorna McCarthy.  

September was also the month we learnt that a rich white man who shoots a gun four times loaded with bullets that are designed to kill, and does kill, is not actually considered a murderer. 

Today I woke up to the tragic news that another young girl has been killed, by suspected male violence. It’s a horrible, horrible news story and my thoughts and sympathies go out to her family, friends and loved ones. 

I’m not going to comment on the specific case here. I want to instead talk about the wider response to the epidemic of male violence. 

Whenever there is a murder like this, feminist campaigners like myself start talking again about male violence. And we are told we’re disgusting, that we’re trying to make political capital out of a tragedy. That now is not the time to talk about male violence. 

It’s a similar response that conservatives make to gun crime incidents in the USA. A mass shooting provokes discussion about gun control. Those in favour of the status quo pronounce that ‘now is not the time to talk about gun control’ and accuse reformists of trying to make political capital out of a tragedy. 

To which the response is – if not now, when? If not in the aftermath of a mass killing by a man with a gun, when is a good time to talk about gun crime? When is a non-sensitive time to have this conversation? When everyone has forgotten again? Or on the days when no gun murders take place in the States? (hint, those days don’t actually exist). 

It’s the same with male violence. We know that 2 women a week are murdered by their partners or ex partners. We know that the vast majority of murderers of women are men (and the vast majority of killers of men are men too). We know that there are 80,000 rapes a year in the UK, over 500,000 sexual assaults – again a majority of which are committed by men against women.

When would be a good time to talk about fatal male violence? When would be a good time to talk about the patterns of male violence? When would be good time to talk about how male violence is not an ‘isolated incident’, how 11 women being killed in one month is not an ‘isolated incident’? If not now, when?

Shall we talk about it on the few days in the week when a woman isn’t killed by a man? We can’t talk about it on the days when male violence against women isn’t happening because – like gun murders in America – those days don’t exist. 

Talking about fatal male violence when it happens isn’t an attempt to make political capital out of a dreadful murder. It’s a very real and very necessary attempt to try and make sense of why these murders keep on happening, so that we can stop them from happening again. 

We keep burying our heads in the sand about the reality of male violence. We keep pretending that these are isolated incidents. We keep ignoring the fact that if 11 members of any other group of people were murdered by another group of people within 30 days then we wouldn’t call it an ‘isolated incident’. 

If we don’t talk honestly about male violence, then we can’t take action to stop it. If we don’t talk about causes, police failings, cuts to life-saving services; if we don’t talk about education; if we don’t talk about impunity then we can’t stop it. 

Ask yourself. How many women have to die before we start talking about fatal male violence? How long are you prepared to wait? 

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Dave Lee Travis and the response to sexual assault

Sexual assault is a crime. 

It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? And yet, in recent days, I’ve found myself having to remind myself of this, and remind others of it too. 

Sexual assault is a crime. It is a crime to grab a woman’s arse or crotch. It is a crime to grope a woman’s tits. It is against the law to violate another person’s autonomy. It’s not funny. It’s not a joke. It’s not ‘just a laugh’ and ‘boys will be boys’. It is a crime. 

I feel I have to remind people of this because in the days following Dave Lee Travis’ conviction for indecent assault, there has been the usual flurry of people trying to minimise what he did, and what others like him did. They’ve tried once again to paint sexual assault as something that just ‘used to happen in the 60s/70s/80s’ (even though we now know that he was still assaulting women in the last few years - as Camilla Long’s excellent article illustrates). When that defence has failed, they’ve tried to act as though it’s not that bad for men to violate women’s boundaries, for men to treat your body as public property. 

That’s what sexual assault is, by the way. It is a deliberate choice by another person to violate your personal boundaries and to treat your body as their property - to treat your body as though it doesn’t belong to you. 

So why are so many people so determined to minimise this crime? Why are so many people determined to pretend that it isn't that bad? Why are people so invested - as one tweeter was this morning - in telling women to stop moaning and instead concern themselves with ‘real issues’? Why, when I tweeted about my own experience of sexual assault, did I receive the patronising response, ‘there there dear!’? 

I’ve got two suggestions. Firstly, I believe it is because of the oft-repeated refrain from the last couple of years:

If that’s a crime, then you’d have to lock up most of the male population!

In another instance that proves that anti feminist men have much less respect for men than most feminists, I believe that most of the male population are able to go about their lives without grabbing women’s body parts. I don’t think violating women’s bodies is something that blokes innately or naturally do. It is a deliberate crime that one person commits against another. So you wouldn’t have to lock up most the male population. (#notallmen !!!)

But if every sexual assault: if every grab; if every act of intimidation; if every flash; if every public wank on to a woman’s body without her consent; if every tongue forced down a throat without consent; if every rape - if all of these crimes were reported, and convicted, then there would be many, many more men in prison. When you consider there are over 500,000 sexual assaults in the UK every year. And that around 80,000 of those are rapes. And of those rapes only 15% are reported. And of that 15%, only 6% are convicted. 

Imagine for a moment, if every one of those sexual assaults and rapes were reported, and every victim was believed, and every perpetrator was convicted. We can’t, can we? We can’t conceive such a thing - if every time a man has groped or grabbed us he was arrested, and charged, and convicted. 

And the reason we can’t imagine it is because as women we have been taught for so long that these every day violations of our bodily autonomy are just things we are meant to put up with. From the age of 16, 14, 12, 10, 8…we are told not to make a fuss. We are told it’s just a bit of a joke. Boys will be boys. We’re told ‘not to make a fuss over nothing’. We’re told it’s just what happens to you when you are a girl or a woman, in public space. We’re not told that anything we can be done about it. We walk away, feeling sad, and frightened, and ashamed, and embarrassed. And he, the person who has made you feel this way, walks away feeling free. 

When I flick through my own main experiences of sexual assault assault, there are at least four offences of DLT proportions and worse. And those are just the four I remember. The general litany of flashings and gropings are too commonplace, too blurry, to really recall individually. I didn’t report a single one of them. I didn’t even report when my hair was set on fire. 

‘Don’t make a fuss. ‘Boys will be boys’. ‘What do you expect?’

Thankfully, in the case of DLT, women did stand up. They called the assaults what they were. They named the crime. And how do we, collectively, as society respond? By talking about how awful it is for him to have to go through this. By talking about how the assaults aren’t that bad. By telling women, once again, that they should just put up with it, and keep quiet. 

I’ve long observed how as a society, we have a dissonance in our approach towards violence against women. I have written about this before, in terms of our reaction to violent celebrity men.

We all agree that of course, violence against women is wrong. We all nod our heads vehemently and agree that rape is an abhorrent crime. And then we do our best to try and minimise violence against women. When we are confronted with rape, we find ways to blame the victim. When we are confronted with domestic abuse, we ask why she stayed. And when sexual assaults like DLT’s are revealed, we shake our heads and muse publicly about whether it’s actually that bad, whether being groped is actually that distressing.

(It is, by the way. Being a victim of sexual assault is deeply unpleasant. In my experience it has meant feeling grubby, and embarrassed, and ashamed. It has made me feel anxious in public spaces. It has been a constant reminder that under patriarchy, I am not entitled to believe that my body is my own, and that there will always be men willing to remind me of this.)

I’ve come to the sad conclusion that the reason we do this, the reason we condemn violence against women on the one hand, and excuse and minimise it on the next, is because the reality of male violence against women and girls is just too awful to confront. So we find ways to avoid confronting it. And the best way to avoid confronting male violence, is to focus our attention on women’s behaviour. 

So now I want you to confront the reality of male violence against women in the UK. Think about it for a moment. Think about how in the UK, there are 500,000 sexual assaults every year. 80,000 rapes every year. That’s around 1500 rapes a week. 1.2 million women every year experience domestic abuse. 2 women a week are being killed by their male partners or exes. 

Think about how,  at the same time this is happening, the government cuts are closing down the services that tackle male violence, and pick up the pieces left by male violence. 

It’s a lot easier to find ways to blame the victim, to ask questions of the victim, and to pretend that the crimes committed against women are not that bad. It’s a lot easier to do that then to confront the extent of male violence against women, to take action to prevent it, and to invest money in supporting the women who experience it. 

It’s a lot easier to tell women that the assaults committed against us aren’t that bad, than to ask why nearly half a million men feel confident that they can grope, grab and assault women and get away with it. 

I think there’s another reason why so many men in the last few days have huffed and puffed and tried to pretend that there’s not much wrong with what DLT did. 

And that’s because they are guilty of the same crime. But unlike DLT, and in common with the vast majority of men who grope, grab, flash, wank on, beat, and rape women, they got away with it. 

DLT’s conviction has reminded those men that what they did is a crime. And now they’re running scared they won’t be able to get away with it again. 

Fancy buying a book or two?

Greta and Boris: A Daring Rescue
The Boys on the Bus 

Monday, 15 September 2014

Re-thinking sisterhood conference and what I said about women only space

So. For me the story of sisterhood and the importance of women-only organising is a story of moving from what might be called ‘liberal’ feminism to a more radical feminist outlook. 

When I started out in feminism, organising Ladyfest 2007 and then, not long after, taking over the stewardship of the Bristol Feminist Network, I believed in the importance of including men in my feminist organising. After all, I reasoned, men can be feminists too (a belief I now question) and patriarchy hurts men too. So why shouldn’t men come along, contribute, share, and listen? Why shouldn’t men be present? 

I do still have sympathy with this outlook in part. I do think that patriarchy hurts men too, and I do believe that men need to be allies to the feminist movement. I believe this because in order to achieve the goals of the women’s liberation movement, men need to change. They need to give up some power and privilege. And for men to do this, they need to see why it is necessary. Feminism is part of the why. I also believe that in many ways, patriarchy does hurt men too. It preaches a damaging ideal of masculinity that celebrates violence and machismo, and leaves men and boys feeling hurt and confused. A good example of this is the exposure of very young men and boys to pornography that glamorises violence against women – telling men that the only way to be sexual is to be violent and aggressive. This message helps no one. 

When I ran the Bristol Feminist Network, very few men attended our meetings. The vast, vast majority of meetings, although open to men, were women only by default. And it is in these meetings where I discovered the beauty of sisterhood. 

Sisterhood is not about liking women, it’s not about being best friends with every woman you meet. I met some women in these meetings who I couldn’t stand! Instead, sisterhood is about creating a space or a world where women’s voices are heard, listened to – really listened to – and respected. 

In these women only spaces, I found myself laughing with women who were ten years younger and forty years older than me. I found myself crying as we shared painful stories, and as I told painful stories myself. I found myself listened to, and heard. 

In those meetings, I discovered the importance of women-only space in creating an environment where all the women speaking had a shared experience of oppression, and where all the women speaking were equal and valued. 

Now, sometimes men would come to the meetings. Mostly these men were lovely. Kind, sensitive, “feminist” – but also filled with male privilege. And I started to realise how different the dynamic was when men were present. Collectively, the women in the room listened to men more. We privileged their voices. We looked to them to be the voice of wisdom and sense. 

This was not something these men consciously demanded from us – far from it. But it was something that occurred because as women, we have been raised from day one to defer to men. We have been educated to put men’s voices first. And it is hard to erase 25 years of patriarchal training to shut up and listen to him, even when you are in a feminist meeting. 

That was my first lesson in why we needed women only space. The second was from a story my friend told me about a meeting she had to go to with a cabinet minister, to talk about women’s rights in conflict zones. The minister arranged for the meeting to take place in his “club”. Yes, a male only club, like the ones you read about in Georgette Heyer novels. My friend had to get permission to enter. 

It was a lightbulb moment for me. For years, I had heard people tell me that women only feminist space was exclusive and excluded men. But in one flash, I realised that the centres of power in this country – the boys schools, the bullgindon club, the golf clubs, the gentleman’s clubs, they were male only spaces that consciously and legally excluded women. The places where the decisions were made, where the men talked, where the men made connections, where the men ruled – all of these were set up to deliberately exclude women. And no one was really talking about it. Whereas men were up in arms at women daring to come together in women only spaces to talk about rape, they were strangely silent about men coming together in male only spaces to talk about laws around rape. 

This is hugely important. If you want to speak to a cabinet minister about including women in conflict resolution in their own countries, as my friend was doing, and to have that meeting you have to go to a place that absolutely excludes women, something is very, very wrong. 

This was when I realised why women only space is so threatening to men. And threatening is the word – if it wasn’t threatening we wouldn’t have to spend so long explaining why we want it, justifying why we want it, and being forced to give it up because we’re ‘discriminating against men.’ Women only space is threatening because men know that male-only spaces are spaces of power. They’re the spaces where men make the decisions that govern society. Women only spaces are spaces where women are creating their own power. 

Because women-only space is empowering – for all of those reasons of sisterhood I explained before. It’s empowering in the real, true sense of the word, because it creates a space where we have an equal and valued voice. 

So that’s how I made the journey from mixed to women-only space. Since my light bulb moment, it’s one I’ve become more convinced by – having had the infuriating experience of being told by men who identify as feminists that I need to shut up, sit back, read more books, or being told ‘I don’t know what I’m talking about’. I need a space that is free from male privilege, where women can share their experiences and self-organise and be empowered. 

Sisterhood has been the most important thing to me since becoming a feminist. As I said, sisterhood is not about liking every woman you meet. But it is absolutely about feeling that women’s voices can and must be heard. It is about recognising common experiences of oppression whilst valuing and talking about how intersectionality means that different women experience oppression differently. And it is about coming together, and creating our own, empowered spaces, having been locked out of the centres of power for so long. 

After all, as Robin Morgan so wisely said, SISTERHOOD IS POWERFUL!!!!!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Women of the Left Bank Series Part 4: Djuna Barnes

Read the rest of the series

I was devoted to Djuna and she was very fond of me in her own superior way…’

So goes Janet Flanner’s reminiscence of Djuna Barnes, and it’s one that seems to speak for most of those who knew this extraordinary writer. Barnes inspired devotion in her friends, and it was a devotion that saved her life on various occasions. 

Janet goes on to tell a story about how Djuna gave her one of her manuscripts to read. Janet read it, and returned it, admitting she was baffled by the content. Djuna responded in her magnificent way:

Oh Janet. I never expected you to be as stupid as Tom Eliot.’ 

Born in 1892 in New York State, Barnes had a terrible and traumatic childhood, something she explores in her picaresque Elizabethan epic, Ryder. Her father was a failed composer, musician and painter who was unable to support his family financially. And he had a big family – moving in his mistress when Barnes was five and fathering eight children. Barnes spent most of her childhood caring for the kids. Barnes was raped as a teenager, and when she was 17 she was married off to the brother of her dad’s mistress, in what was not a consensual match. She remained with him for two months. 

Barnes’ violent and unsettled childhood influences much of her writing. As I mentioned, Ryder deals with the impact her father’s sexual antics had on her family, and it also obliquely references her rape. She later deals with this latter subject more explicitly in her furious play, The Antiphon

In 1912 Djuna Barnes moved to New York, where she pioneered a new kind of journalism – documenting her own experiences of the stories of the time. She volunteered to be force-fed so she could document the trials of the hunger-striking suffragettes, and was rescued by a fire fighter from a skyscraper. Barnes joined the thriving bohemian community in Greenwich Village and in 1915 published her book of poetry ‘The Book of Repulsive Women’. 

But like many women of the time, Barnes believed that in order to live the life she wanted to live, she needed to be in Paris. And so, in 1921, she travelled across the Atlantic and arrived in the City of Light. 

One of the things everyone remembers about Djuna is her incredible beauty. She was stunning. And she knew how to make the most of her gorgeous looks. She was always immaculately made-up, with red lips and red nails, wearing the fashions of the day. But her beauty was a double-edged sword. Gertrude Stein dismissed her talent because she didn’t believe such a beautiful woman needed to be taken seriously. Whilst other raved about her work, Stein merely referred to her as having ‘beautiful legs.’ It was not a compliment Djuna took kindly. 

In Paris, Barnes became a member of the expat community, and one of Natalie Barney’s circle. She had a brief affair with Natalie not longer after her arrival (but then, who didn’t?). 
Natalie eagerly promoted Barnes’ work at her salons, and was a lifelong friend and patron. Barnes later went on to pay a tribute of sorts to Natalie in her privately-published ‘Ladies Almanack’. This hand-illustrated book was a satire of the lesbian circle that orbited Natalie. Stars of the Almanack include Janet Flanner and Solita Solano as ‘Nip and Tuck’; Dolly Wilde as ‘Doll Furious’; and Natalie herself as ‘Dame Evangeline Musset’. 

Djuna’s reputation as a writer went beyond the lesbian Paris scene. Despite Ezra Pound calling her a ‘baboon’ (Fuck You Ezra!), her talent was hugely respected by the leading modernists of the day. She had a very close relationship with James Joyce. She saw him as her equal, and would talk with him about her writing and her work. TS Eliot was a great admirer – he would go on to edit and write the introduction to her masterpiece, Nightwood. And Ford Madox Ford championed her work in his Atlantic Review. 

Which brings me on to Nightwood – Djuna’s 1936 novel that, among other things, tells the story of her relationship with the artist Thelma Wood.  But before we deal with Nightwood, we should deal with Thelma. 

Born in 1902 in Kansas, Thelma and Djuna began a relationship in 1921 that would last for eight years. Thelma was very tall and boyish looking – a very attractive woman who dressed in androgynous clothes and pursued ‘silverpoint’ art. At first, the relationship was very happy. ‘They were so haunted of each other’ is how Barnes described the intensity of their attraction to one another. 

But over time, the relationship started to show cracks. Thelma was a drinker and unable to remain sexually faithful to Djuna. And that was what Djuna wanted, and needed, from her lover. A drinker herself, the pair became lost in a painful spiral of drunkenness and infidelity, until they could no longer sustain their relationship. When Thelma began an affair with Henriette Metcalf, Djuna ended it for good. 

The end of the relationship was devastating for Djuna. She locked herself away and drank solidly. Finally, increasingly concerned for her welfare, Natalie Barney brought her to her home on rue Jacob and her housekeeper, Berthe, who fondly recalled Djuna’s elegance, nursed her back to health. 

As she recovered, Djuna poured her heartache into Nightwood – a novel that remains one of the greatest and most beautiful works of the modernist period. 

I first read Nightwood as a teenager and it is a book that has haunted me throughout my adult life – a book I return to year after year, each time discovering something new and frightening and beautiful. That is its power. 

Nightwood tells the story of Felix Volkbein, an Austrian trying to uphold the traditions of European nobility – a section of society which he doesn’t really belong to. He marries the androgynous Robin and she has a child, but Robin leaves him and their son in pursuit of her own wandering adventures. She meets Nora, and the two fall in love, but Robin constantly seeks out affairs with strangers. In an appallingly frightening and intense chapter, Robin meets a woman called Jenny – a grasping bitch who is intent on stealing the happiness of others. Jenny grabs at Robin, who leaves Nora. 

Nora desperately tries to find Robin and bring her back to her, searching for her across Europe and America. She looks for her in the bars and the ports, tries to love the girls Robin has loved, but only finds women who Robin has left. The descriptions of her search are among some of the most heartrendingly painful and beautiful passages in the novel. 

Central to the narrative is the character of Dr Matthew O’Connor, a transvestite who opines on the nature of the night (in my fantasy film version, I always imagine him played by John Hurt). His babbling monologues on night, sex, history, philosophy and Robin are the heart of the novel. Despite not taking part in any of the main action, he is the observer. Through Matthew we understand everything that is happening in the novel. 

It is impossible for me to put into words the extraordinariness of Nightwood and its impact on me as a reader. There is no other book like it. Although it is seen as a cult gay novel, it really is so much more than that. It is a novel about gay characters, certainly, but it is also a novel about pain, despair, the encroaching fascism taking over 1930s Europe, of misfits and strangers, of love and loss, and of life. Its prose is poetry – rich with visions and intense, sensual descriptions. It is grotesque and beautiful all at once. 

Nightwood was a success, yet the applause didn’t bring Djuna happiness. She continued to drink and drink, and she was broke. But the devotedness she inspired in her friends never faded. With war approaching, her friends recognised the need to get her out of Europe. Worried for her safety, Peggy Guggenheim paid for Djuna’s passage home to America. She was so ill that Peggy worried she wouldn’t survive the journey. 

She did survive. After returning to New York, Djuna became increasingly bitter and reclusive. In fact, she lived a very long life – dying in 1982. Throughout she maintained correspondence with Natalie, the pair reminiscing on their life in 1920s Paris. 

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Think same sex parents are inherently worse than straight ones? Then sorry, but you are homophobic.

I was really upset to read Kellie Maloney’s comments, reported in Pink News, where she stated that she didn’t believe same-sex couples can or should raise children. As regular readers will know, this is an issue that is very close to my heart, having been raised by my mum and her partner, and my dad and his wife. So I wanted to respond to Maloney’s comments, and to those who agree with her that there is something wrong with the way I was raised.

I find it utterly confounding that today people still believe the gender of a parent determines their ability to parent. That a family of a mum and dad is inevitably better than a family of a mum and a mum, or a dad and a dad. That in spite of everything we hear about abuse, neglect and violence within heterosexual marriage, people still believe that a husband and wife are innately better parents because one has an XX chromosome and one has an XY.

Children don’t need a mum and a dad to flourish and be happy. They don’t need a mum and a mum, or a dad and a dad, either. What children need is love. They need love, and care, and support, and to know they are safe. They need to know they are listened to, that they have parent/s or carers they can depend upon. They need boundaries and affection and cuddles. They need love.

A husband and wife are not immediately better at providing these things than two women parents, or two men parents. In fact, studies show that children raised in gay families are doing just as well, if not better, than their straight-raised peers. Anne Goldberg, quoted in the article, says that this could be because gay parents tend to be more committed and motivated than their straight counterparts.

Now, as it happens I don’t pay much mind to these studies, although it does provide a smug sense of satisfaction that so much research proves the bigots wrong over and over again. But anyway! I don’t think creating a hierarchy of parenting is helpful. Why? Well, for all the reasons above. I don’t believe sexuality creates good or bad parents. I believe that good parents are ones who love and care for their child, regardless of who they choose to have sex with.

If you believe that straight people are always better parents than gay people because they are straight then I am sorry to disappoint you, but you are homophobic. And if there is one thing that causes pain and distress to the children of gay parents, it’s not their parents’ sexuality. It’s the homophobia of other people.

I grew up in a loving and stable home with parents who loved me. Of course, like any family, we had our ups and downs, our rows and our spats. But fundamentally, I was loved. I lived in a home that was full of love – mum and her partner’s love for me and my brother, and for each other. And when I stayed at my dad’s, it was the same – a home of love. That’s what matters to children. Being loved.

Sadly, I have friend who didn’t have that care and stability. I have friends who grew up in very unhappy and violent homes. And guess what? Their parents were straight. And happily, I have friends who grew up in loving and supportive homes. And their parents were straight too. Because sexuality isn’t an indicator of your ability to parent. You can be straight and an abusive bully. You can be gay and an abusive bully. You can be straight and a kind and loving parent. And you can be gay and a kind and loving parent.

The only thing I found difficult growing up around having gay parents was other people’s homophobia. And that was not a problem caused by my mum’s sexuality, but by the bigotry and cruelty of others. I cannot emphasise this enough. The problem children of gay people face is other people’s homophobia. And that was not a problem caused by my parents. It is a problem that homophobic bigots cause, and it is a problem that is solved by tackling homophobia  - not by condemning gay parents.

I don’t understand homophobia. I don’t understand how someone can be so cruel as to sit in judgement of my family, and tell me that the way I was raised was wrong, with no consideration of how that might make me feel. Why would anyone want to make a child feel that their family is second-rate? Why would anyone want to go on TV or stand in a pulpit or in the House of Commons and tell a child that they have been raised wrong, simply because of who their parents fell in love with? Why would anyone care so little about children that they would happily and deliberately make a child feel unhappiness and anxiety that there is something wrong with their family?

So I’ll say it again. If you believe that straight parents are innately better simply because they are straight then you are homophobic.

All people like me are asking for is for people to stop telling us our families are inherently worse, simply because of the sexuality of our (in my case one set of) parents. To let us live our lives, free from bigotry and judgement. Which - as it happens - is what Maloney is asking for, in coming out as a trans woman. It has been heartening to see the overwhelmingly positive response she has received - a real wonderful signifier of changing attitudes. 

In 2014, it really shouldn’t be much to ask, should it?

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

12 years ago my hair was set on fire. Yesterday I published a Kindle Single short story about it.

You may remember that earlier this summer, I wrote about the 'die in a fire' meme and what it meant to me, as someone who had her set on fire by violent boys.

I have been working on a short story about this incident for nearly a year now, inspired by a conversation I had with two other writers about bullying and violence. I wasn't really sure what to do with it. And then another conversation with another writer gave me the answer - a Kindle Single!

So over the weekend I ventured into the world of Amazon self-publishing and published 'The Boys on the Bus: A Short Story'.

The Kindle Single includes two short stories - the title one, 'The Boys on the Bus', and a second story called 'Anna's Interlude.' Here are the blurbs:

The Boys on the Bus

A writer attending a literary dinner recounts the traumatic experience of having her hair set on fire when she was a schoolgirl 12 years earlier. As she confronts the memory, she realizes how through telling stories, we try to find closure from the trauma caused by violence. This short story explores the nature of violence, memory and trauma in a sensitive and lyrically written way. 

Anna's Interlude

A married woman living during the Second World War embarks on an affair with a young man in the Navy. Through their affair she discovers how unhappy her marriage has made her. She becomes determined to leave her husband and build a new life, a life that is true to herself. But when the letters from her lover come to an abrupt end, she finds she is trapped all over again. 

The Boys on the Bus: A Short Story is available to you for the BARGAIN PRICE of £1.53, and can be downloaded on to your Kindle, or your Kindle app on your smartphone or tablet. 

I really hope you buy it and enjoy it. 

Buy The Boys on the Bus: A Short Story NOW! 

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Greta & Boris: Summer holiday competition!

It's the start of the summer holidays!

Which is exactly the moment when the adventures in my first novel, Greta and Boris: A Daring Rescue, begins.

Because it is the first day of the summer holidays when Greta's beloved cat, Boris, is cat-napped by the Rat King.

And it is the second day of the summer holidays when Greta and her intrepid cat-warrior friend, Kyrie, set out to rescue him. On their adventures, Greta must face the challenge of the staircase of the autumn leaves; cross Cloud Top Land and the Milky Sea; end the war between the two tribes of mice and face the truth of the Millpond; before facing the Rat King himself.

Greta and Boris: A Daring Rescue makes a fantastic summer holiday read for children (and grown ups!). It's packed with adventure, fabulous characters and fantastic lands.

To celebrate the start of the summer holidays - and the start of Greta's adventures - I'm giving away a signed copy of the book for your whole family to enjoy.

To enter, simply write your name and email address in a comment on this blogpost before midday on Friday 1st August. Comments will not be published so you needn't worry about your contact details being public. I'll then put all the names in a hat and announce the winner on Friday.

Sound good?

You can buy Greta and Boris: A Daring Rescue from all good bookshops, including Foyles, Waterstones, Blackwells - as well as on your Kindle.

To get you in the Greta and Boris mood, here's a little taster from the opening chapter:

Swish, swish, was the sound that broke into the stillness of the night. Swish, swish, accompanied with scampering and scratching of claws and paws, rushing forward through grass and fallen leaves towards the palace. And if anyone had been awake to hear it, they would have heard that each scurrying paw-step was landing in time, in the rhythm of a march. A soft thud, thud, swish, swish, echoed through the sleepy kingdom, as only the moon looked down on the onward journey of an army that didn’t want to be seen.
The cats slept on, oblivious to the menace that was slowly surrounding them.
The pack of marching creatures started to head up the hill where the palace stood, imposing and magnificent. In the moonlight, the towering building looked even more beautiful and impressive. The rainbow-colored tiles glistened like tiny fairy lights, a blinding spectacle that illuminated the hills and villages below it. The army continued to advance. As the moonlight reflected off their furry backs, it became increasingly obvious which creatures of the animal kingdom were threatening the peaceful palace of the cats. And there could be no doubt at all, when one of the marching many kicked a stone and let loose a wild and pained ‘SQUEAK!’ before hastily being seen to and told off by the leader of the procession.
The moon could see the horrible truth below her now, yet from her lofty place in the sky was powerless to stop it. It was an army of rats. The rats had invaded the Kingdom of Cats. Under the cover of darkness, safe in the knowledge that every kitten, tom and queen would be sleeping soundly, they had made their cowardly advance, confident that no-one would be able to stop them.
You can buy Greta and Boris: A Daring Rescue from all good bookshops, including FoylesWaterstonesBlackwells - as well as on your Kindle.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Liar. You’re too ugly to be harassed.

On Saturday night, Caroline Criado-Perez tweeted about hearing men hissing at women on the platform – a kind of street harassment she hadn’t experienced before. Yesterday, I joined in the conversation, saying that the hissing thing was not something I had had happen to me (knowingly) but was something I had heard from other women. I mentioned that in terms of ‘noises’ as harassment, there had been a phase where men would click their tongues against their teeth, or make squelchy kissing sounds as I walked by. 

Our conversation was then rudely interrupted by someone who called himself ‘radical’ but clearly held some deeply conservative views about men and women. He wrote:

‘I don’t believe for a fucking minute you’ve had guys making kissing noises at you’.

(this guy’s twitter feed also reveals he doesn’t know the difference between ‘empathising’ and ‘emphasising’ so I wouldn’t give too much credence to what he says). 

So anyway, at the same time this happened, Vanessa Feltz disclosed publicly that Rolf Harris had assaulted her live on the Big Breakfast. Tweeters everywhere decided not to believe her. They called her a liar, and one person even said she was trying to ruin the life of ‘an innocent man’ (in spite of the fact Harris was found guilty on twelve counts and has been sentenced to jail as a result). 

Obviously the awful assault committed against Feltz is far, far more severe than men making kissing noises on the street. But what both these episodes illustrate clearly is just how willing our society is to disbelieve women when we talk about male aggression committed against us.  

The charming man on Twitter, who responded to my comments about men harassing me on the street with rude disbelief, is not so far away from the people refusing to believe Feltz. And neither of them are very far away at all from the many, many people – some in authority, some friends, some family members – who refuse to believe women and girls when they speak out about the violence committed against them. 

It’s so common. So common. And it starts with a conversation like the one Caroline and I had. I talked about an (very mild) act of aggression committed by men against me. Man pipes up, refusing to believe me. He calls me a liar. 

Feltz talks about an assault committed against her by Rolf Harris, a man convicted of indecent assault. Men pipe up and call her a liar. They refuse to believe her. 

Susie arrives at a police station in Rochdale. She reports multiple rapes and sexual exploitation. The police call her ‘unreliable’. They refuse to believe her. 

Girls tell their head teachers that Savile abused them. They get called liars. No one believes them. He continues to abuse women, girls and boys until he dies. 

A woman goes to the police to report she has been raped by a taxi driver. The police don’t believe her. He rapes an estimated 100 women. 

I could go on. 

Every single one of these incidences has one key thing in common – the refusal to believe women when they disclose the violence committed against them. 

Of course, I am in no way saying that men harassing me on the street is anywhere near as serious or painful or awful as the rape and abuse experienced by women and girls in those examples. I cannot emphasise that enough. What I am saying is that over and over again, when women disclose male aggression – no matter how severe or mild – they are disbelieved. And that disbelief allows the abuse to continue. 

This refusal to believe even the most minor story props up rape culture. It is this that prevents justice for victims and survivors of male violence. It is this that allows the men who rape and abuse women and girls to get away with it, over and over again. 

In the face of such terrifying levels of disbelief, in the face of a concerted effort to refuse to hear women, is it any wonder women don’t report the men who abuse them? Is it any wonder women don’t speak out? Do you think a woman or girl could look at the shit thrown at Vanessa Feltz yesterday, and think it’s worth accusing her abuser? When bravely raising your voice risks you being hurt further? Risks you being disbelieved, mocked or worse? 

We need to start believing women. We need to start hearing women. When women raise our voices to say what has happened to us, all of us need to believe her. Because when you start believing women, you can start tackling violence. As long as you disbelieve women, you are aiding the abusers. You are allowing them to carry on. You are covering for them, and you are giving them permission to abuse. 

There was another angle to the tweet sent to me, and to a lot of the nasty comments directed at Vanessa Feltz. And that was the implication that I was too unattractive to “attract” harassment on the street, and that Vanessa Feltz was “too unattractive” to be assaulted. 

Man, even writing that sentence feels so, so ugly. But that was certainly what was happening – as this Storify testifies to. 

Now, say what you like about how I look (and believe me, people online have never been afraid of that!), but whether tweeters think I’m hot or not has very little bearing on whether I get harassed or not. Because harassment, like all examples of male violence against women, is not about sexiness. It isn’t about being fancied. Street harassment is about power

Men don’t shout crap at you on the street or make hissing and kissing noises at you because they fancy you. Street harassment is a way of reminding women in public space that the space does not belong to them. It is a way of asserting male power. It is a way of reducing women. It’s the man or men explaining to you, in the most demeaning way possible, that this is their space, and that they have more of a right to be in it than you do. 

There is an implicit victim-blaming going on when men try to tell you that you can’t be harassed because you’re not pretty enough. It suggests that women who do get harassed are only harassed because they’re pretty. It suggests that these women are going out there, with their pretty faces and pretty outfits, and they get harassed as a result. It removes the agency of the perpetrator and puts all the focus on the women’s behaviour – and that behaviour is ‘daring to leave the house with a female body’. 

The only reason any woman gets harassed on the street is because a man or group of men chooses to harass her. It’s not because she’s so gorgeous ‘they just can’t help themselves.’ It’s because they want to exercise power. It’s because they want to remind us that we don’t belong in public space. 

Fundamentally, across the spectrum, all male violence is about power. It is not about sexual attraction. No matter what people on Twitter think. No matter what Judges in court rooms think. Men don’t harass or abuse or rape women because they are ‘overcome’ and ‘lose control’. The men who harass or abuse or rape women do it because they make a deliberate choice to. To write online that Feltz is lying because she is too ugly to be assaulted is to deliberately ignore why the men who choose to abuse women do so. To write online that I am lying about men harassing me on the street because I am too ugly to “attract” that kind of “attention” is to deliberately ignore why the men who choose to harass women do so. 

It’s awfully hard for women to speak out. It’s hard because we know what’s coming. We know we will be met with disbelief and victim blaming. We know it is our behaviour that will be criticised, that will be censured. We know it is us who will be told to change. We know it is our experience that will be undermined and minimised and brushed off. We know the men who rape and abuse and harass will continue with a free pass. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It can be different. We can all choose to start believing women. You can make that choice today.