Friday, 30 December 2016

For What the hell just happened?

I contributed to this group round-up of what happened in 2016.

It's in alphabetical order so scroll down to find me!

I argue that while 2016 seemed like a year when everything changed, perhaps it showed just what hasn't changed enough.

Mainly sexism and racism.

Have a read and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Reeling through 2015, changing through 2016, planning for 2017

“2016,” I’ve said cautiously the last few weeks, “wasn’t so bad, on a personal level.”

Those of you who know me in *real life* will know that 2015 was, err, let’s go with turbulent, on a personal level. Whenever I think back on that year, I picture myself like a spinning wagon wheel, reeling down a bumpy road yelling ‘what the fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu’. It was quite an odd year, all told. Merely experiencing one of the things that happened that year would have been bad enough

But 2016 has been a year of big changes. I moved into my flat in February after frantically decorating it, living off takeaway pizza and having a meltdown about plumbers. After a period of sickness I re-evaluated how I wanted my career to look. That re-evaluation led to me quitting my job so that I now work part-time in a circus as I pursue life as a freelance writer. I’ve made stunning new friends, lost some much-loved people, started writing poems, finished drafting my novel (again) and persuaded the Arts Council to fund me on a writing residency. 

I even got to travel a bit. 

That’s just half the story, though. Because whatever 2016 brought on a personal level, on a political level there’s been no escape from horror and violence and upset. From waking up sobbing at 5am on 24 June to waking up sobbing at 5am on 9 November, to the unbearable experience of watching a news programme start with a breaking terrorist attack in Ankara and end with a breaking terrorist attack in Berlin on Monday night, it has been a frightening and troubling year. 

And it’s got me thinking. 

About 2017. 

Because with Brexit and Trump and increasing instability and violence in the world, I feel like we all need to do something, to do more, to fight back against the march of the right, the swing towards isolationism and protectionism, and the increasingly acceptability or normalisation of hateful speech, attitudes and actions. 

At the same time, it can feel like there is very little anyone can do on a personal, day-to-day level against these huge political tides. What does one do when faced with the horror scenes of Aleppo? How does one respond when we hear news that Trump has barked out every racist insult under the sun? What do we say to the government as they parrot meaningless, circular phrases about what Brexit is and isn’t (it is Brexit, it is red, white and blue, it isn’t going to be shared with us in advance).

I don’t have a clue, quite frankly. 

But here are some things I am going to do in 2017. 

I am going to use the one skill I have – writing – to try and tell more political stories and to try and explore marginalised issues. I’ve always done this – my Paris book which I’ve been working on for the last few years is very focused on telling the untold stories of women artists and writers. But I want to do this more. I’ve got two residencies lined up this year where I’ll start exploring these new stories and new ideas. I feel more and more that there’s almost a duty right now to use art and literature to create alternative media that brings new, honest and perspective-changing stories into the light. 

To be honest with you, writing is all I have. So I’m going to use it more and use it better. I’m going to keep on writing about violence against women and girls. I’m also going to try and write more about other subjects. 

Through my up-coming residencies at Spike Island, Wales Arts Review, and with my continuing involvement in the Read Women project, I’m going to try and do more to provide a platform for, and promote, women’s voices. In a world which saw confirmed groper, alleged rapist and alleged abuser Trump elected over the most qualified person ever to run for President, we need to work harder and raise our voices louder than ever. 

That feels like something I can do. Something I want to do. To tell stories, to build platforms where other women can tell their stories, to collaborate with writers and artists to unearth these stories and give them air. 

Because if we don’t write our stories, if we don’t build our own platforms, then the continuing swing to the right will go unchallenged. The narratives that are being fed to us that normalise hate – racist, sexist, homophobic hate – will become the dominant story. 

My platform is small. It’s here, and in a few other publications. Contrary to rumours in response to this piece from March, I don’t have a weekly national newspaper column!! But in 2017, I’m going to use what I have for all I’ve got – use it to tell the stories that I think need telling, and to challenge the stories that risk causing harm, pain and further political turmoil and violence. 

Watch this space…

Friday, 16 December 2016

For Open Democracy: Ali Smith's Autumn

I adore Ali Smith so of course I was going to love her latest novel, Autumn

But it really is an extraordinary piece of work. 

She's written a novel about summer 2016 that was published in autumn 2016. 

So as you read it, you are reading the history of now. 

Here's my full review for Open Democracy

If you haven't read it yet, do it now. Because it is uncanny to read the now, now. 

Sunday, 11 December 2016

How society and the state gas lights victims of domestic abuse

I’ve written before about how culturally we have a vested interest in ensuring women don’t report incidents of male violence. With 1.2 million incidents of domestic abuse every year in England and Wales, and 500,000 sexual offences (the vast majority of which are perpetrated by men against women), pursuing justice for all perps and all victims would be a societal nightmare. The justice system simply would not be able to cope with the number of men needing to be investigated, tried, sentenced and imprisoned. More than that, the economy would collapse if so many men were taken out of the system. 

If every rape in England and Wales (97,000 a year) was prosecuted and every rapist was sentenced, then there would be chaos. How would our prison system cope with another 90,000+ men behind bars for a minimum of five years (two years with good behaviour)? We can’t imagine what justice for every victim would look like. We just can’t! 

As a result, women’s silence is immensely valuable. 

Recently, however, I’ve come to think of this as not just the state and society passively being invested in women’s silence on male violence. Instead, I’ve come to believe that the state and society is actively gas lighting women, in order to maintain our silence on male violence. 

To give you a definition of gas lighting, I turn to this excellent editorial in Teen Vogue, about how Donald Trump is committing this abuse against an entire nation: 

"Gas lighting" is a buzzy name for a terrifying strategy currently being used to weaken and blind the American electorate. We are collectively being treated like Bella Manningham in the 1938 Victorian thriller from which the term "gas light" takes its name. In the play, Jack terrorizes his wife Bella into questioning her reality by blaming her for mischievously misplacing household items which he systematically hides. Doubting whether her perspective can be trusted, Bella clings to a single shred of evidence: the dimming of the gas lights that accompanies the late night execution of Jack’s trickery. The wavering flame is the one thing that holds her conviction in place as she wriggles free of her captor’s control.

To gas light is to psychologically manipulate a person to the point where they question their own sanity, 

So how are society and the state committing this abuse against women? 

Every day, women are sent messages that the violence committed against us, the day-to-day assaults and violations that we grew up with, don’t really matter. We’re told that they don’t really count. That they’re not that serious and they’re not that bad. Worse, we’re told that they’re probably our own fault. 

Trump is a good example to start with. After the recording of him boasting about committing sexual assaults was released, the backlash against women began. We were told that his comments were just ‘locker room banter’ and therefore not to be taken so seriously. We were sent a clear message: groping women by the pussy was just something that lads do, and we’d be silly to get upset by it. 

Never mind that women know how serious it is. Never mind that women know this, because it happens to us all the time. We were being oversensitive. We were being, dare I say it, hysterical. 

That was two months ago. Since then, the narrative around Trump’s admitted assaults has changed again. Now they’re allegations of which he is innocent before proven guilty (wade through the replies to this tweet). Women’s reality is once more challenged. A man openly boasts about sexual assault. He couldn’t have made his boast clearer. And we’re told that even though he actually said it out loud, it’s still not true. It’s still not that bad. It’s still women complaining about nothing. He can still be President. 

Another recent example is found in the devastating report on violence against girls in schools. The report revealed that:

  • almost a third (29%) of 16-18 year old girls say they have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school
  • nearly three-quarters (71%) of all 16-18 year old boys and girls say they hear terms such as "slut" or "slag" used towards girls at schools on a regular basis
  • 59% of girls and young women aged 13-21 said in 2014 that they had faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college in the past year

The report also exposed how, time and time again, teachers respond to girls reporting this kind of sexually aggressive behaviour with the answer ‘boys will be boys.’ As Laura Bates said in this BBC interview

"We do also hear from girls who report this type of harassment or even unwanted sexual touching to teachers only to be told, 'Boys will be boys,' or, 'He probably just likes you.’"

What this tells us is that from a very young age, girls are sent the message that the violence committed against them isn’t that bad. It’s just something that boys do and that girls have to learn to put up with. We’re taught from the beginning not only not to expect justice for the violence committed against us, we’re not even to think of it as actual violence.  

Can you see how this is an act of gas lighting? 

Let me spell it out. Women are abused by men. Girls are abused by boys. We feel uncomfortable, angry, hurt or afraid. We don’t like what has been done to us. We start to think of it as violence. 

But then we’re told that it’s not. We’re told it’s locker room banter, or boys being boys. We’re told that it’s not that bad after all. We were told it was our fault, if anything did happen. 

And so we start to think that perhaps we were oversensitive. Perhaps our feelings were wrong - an overreaction. Perhaps it was us, after all. And so we live with what’s happened to us, and we keep on living with it, because it keeps on happening. 

I’ve had personal experience of this. That sense of violation, and then questioning my own reaction. Was it my fault? Did I lead him on? Am I overreacting by thinking of this as assault? I wrote about that specific thought process after the Dave Lee Travis conviction, when a lot of men were very invested in denying that his actions were violent, let alone criminal. 

If everyone is telling you that what happens to you is not really violent, is not really criminal, then you start to doubt your own reactions to it. How could you not?  

And once that doubt creeps in, there’s no way you go and report. So the status quo is maintained and violent men can continue to violate women with impunity. 

This is the kind of societal gas lighting that tells women our experiences of violence don’t matter. But there is a more direct way in which the state itself gas lights women survivors of male violence - again to maintain that status quo and deny women justice for the violence committed against us

Recently I spoke to a friend about her experiences of dealing with the criminal justice system in England after reporting a violent ex. I use her story with her permission. 

During the abusive relationship, her ex would tell her that she was overreacting to his violence. I won’t go into details here, but suffice to say these were severe and extreme acts of physical violence. He would call her oversensitive, and say she took his actions too seriously. He was gas lighting her - telling her that her experiences and her reactions to those experiences were not only invalid, they were not real

Another example was how when she tried to speak to him about his behaviour, he would tell her that it was ‘in the past’ - even if that “past” was only a few days before. Again, he was using manipulation to deny her experience. 

What my friend found when she went to the police was a repeat of this exact same gas lighting. 

From officers telling her that she’d be better off not pursuing the case and talking to her friends instead because it would be too hard to prosecute, to other officers expressing empathy with her ex, she faced a constant battle to mentally hold on to her reality, her real and lived experience. As time went on, the statute of limitations for some of the accusations passed. She was told by the CPS, just as her ex had told her, that these things were ‘too far in the past’ to do anything about. 

With the statute of limitations passed on one aspect of the case, she is now faced with a reality where legally, nothing can be done to prosecute certain incidents committed against her. Legally, it's as if they never happened. She has no recourse to justice left and he will never be charged for what he did. 

That, right there, is how the low conviction rate for crimes against women is an example of the state’s gas lighting. We know what is done to us. We may even tell the police what is done to us. Time moves on, nothing happens, and suddenly it’s too late. With no justice in sight, women are forced to accept that, according to the state, what happens to us isn’t so bad. We’re left, floundering around, asking in desperation whether we were, in fact, wrong to take it seriously. Whether it really was so bad as we thought it was. 

Because, the state forces us to ask, if it were so bad, if it were as frightening and horrifying and devastating as we experienced it to be, then surely something should have happened? Surely justice should have been done?

It’s truly disturbing. Everywhere women live with the knowledge that men have committed violence against them, and yet time and time again men are never convicted. They commit these awful crimes, and nothing happens to them. In that ‘nothing’ is the pressure on women to accept. In that ‘nothing’ is the gas lighting statement: what you thought happened to you didn’t happen in the way you thought it did, wasn’t as bad as you thought it was, because if it were then surely he’d be in jail.

This brings me back to the beginning of the post. There is an epidemic of male violence in this country. Every day, hundreds of women are raped, abused and assaulted by men. For every woman to receive justice is too much for society and the state to cope with. So there exists a need to ensure women and girls keep their silence. And that need is met by endless messaging sent to women, telling us that the violence committed against us is not only normal and inevitable, it’s also not as bad as we think it is. It’s boys will be boys. It’s locker room banter. It’s just get over it and talk to your friends if you’re upset, it’s too hard to prosecute. 

This is an act of mass gas lighting. It denies women justice and maintains a gendered power structure where men as a class can oppress women as a class, using violence as its ultimate tool and threat. 

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Stop trying to make 'fascie' happen...

...or, how we must resist the normalisation of the far right. 

On Thursday, a friend of mine put on Facebook that she and a friend were in an Arabic restaurant in London, ordering their food using the correct Arabic names. A man shouted over to them that ‘they should speak English because this is England.’ Aside from the irony of this man enjoying Arabic food in England, this is not the only such incident she has spoken of since Brexit and Trump’s election victory - two political events in the last six months that have emboldened racism, misogyny and homophobia. 

On the same day, another friend of mine re-tweeted about an Evening Standard article on the ‘fascie pack’ -  a puff piece gushing about how the new generation of fascists were well-dressed, well-groomed and, well, I don’t know how to put it, really. Cool? Hip? Edgy? 

Everything about this article was completely mind-boggling. It dripped with celebratory descriptors for its subjects, from calling Milo the ‘arch celebrity of the movement’ to focusing on Tomi Lahren’s ‘allure’ - she is ‘slim, pretty […] zealous about her mission’ who ‘with a deft hand makes a discussion about cultural appropriation seem trivial’. 

Under a subhead ‘dress the part’, the journalist explains the haircut of the alt-right male - ‘a short back and sides but long on top (nicknamed “the fascie”)’ and their ‘three outfits: a dark suit, a Farage-esque heritage look or a skinhead with Eighties jacket and light-wash jeans.’ Meanwhile, the women are ‘polished […] Lahren has it down: smooth, tonged hair and slim-fitting A-line dresses.’  

So there you have it. A style guide for hate speech, fake news and conspiracy theories. 

This is one of a number of articles I’ve seen in recent weeks that seem to have decided the really interesting thing about the rise of the far right is fashion, not politics. And okay, maybe in being pissed off about it I am just doing exactly what such click-baiting articles want me to do. I’m being as outraged as they want me to be. 

But there is something important to say about the way these articles are normalising the hateful, dangerous rhetoric that is making it easier and more acceptable to shout at a black woman in an Arabic restaurant to ‘speak English, you’re in England’. 

Right now, we don’t need puff pieces about fascist fashion. We never did. I don’t care if Tomi Lahren wears an A-line skirt of a pencil skirt. I don’t care about which fascist wears a suit and which one styles himself on the 80s skin head beating up black kids. I care about the rise of hateful, far-right speech that is inciting hate crimes against BME communities, the LGBT community and women across all communities. That is where our energy and our attention needs to be focused. Articles like this only serve to normalise what is hateful and dangerous. Focusing on fashion over politics might seem like a fun pitch in an editorial meeting. But the impact of the rise of the far right on people across the world is far from pretty and far from frivolous. 

We cannot allow the things these young far-right ‘thought-leaders’ say to become acceptable. We can’t afford to normalise fascism. Because as soon as we do that, as soon as we describe them as ‘impeccably groomed’ or ask whether the leader of Austria’s young far right movement is ‘hipster or hatemonger?’ (glasses don’t make you a hipster, if you spread hate then you are a hatemonger), then we’re treating hate speech as a trend. As something that is just happening in the world that we have to get along with, like Amish-style beards and sailor tattoos. It becomes met with a shrug, with a: it might not be for me, but heck, who am I to judge? 

We are to judge. We need to judge. We need to speak out and say that the rhetoric spouted by Breitbart writers and right-wing YouTube ‘stars’ is vile, and hateful, and causing real harm. 

There’s something inherently naive about these articles that reminds me of the way we talk about domestic violence abusers and rapists. As if all fascists have a swastika tattooed on their foreheads. As if you can’t brush your hair before opening your mouth to pour out racist epithets. Just like the wife-beater doesn’t always conform to your stereotyped expectations, neither need the far right. The hate speech they spout doesn’t become easier to stomach because it’s delivered by someone wearing a sharp suit. The impact of that hate speech isn’t lessened because they’ve given their shit haircuts a sickeningly cutesie nickname. 

As I wrote last month, since Trump’s election there have been exhortations for those of us who despise everything he stands for to reach out to his supporters with empathy and understanding. We’re told that we need to accept the result, and accept what it means. 

I disagree with this. I don’t think we should try and reach out with an olive branch to racism and misogyny and homophobia - that we should try and understand politics that want to ban all members of Islam from a country and damns an entire country’s population as rapists. Yes, we have to ask why these ideas are becoming more and more popular. But we don’t have any obligation to reach out with care and understanding. Because as soon as we do that, what do we say to those under attack from these views? What do we say to the woman whose hijab has been ripped from her head; to the woman denied an abortion in Ohio? Where does our understanding of their attackers take us? How do we answer to the victims and survivors? 

I believe that we need to challenge it. To refuse to accept it. We need to stop pretending that it’s normal and understandable, and instead we need to argue back. Fight back. We need to say that it’s not Milo’s freedom of speech under threat when he’s banned from Twitter, it’s the women he’s set his supporters on. We need to point out again and again that those attacking the ‘liberal elite’ are themselves the elite. We need to put the blame for inequality firmly where it belongs. 

My worry is that seemingly frivolous articles about the fashion choices of the far right are part of a creeping acceptance. They are contributing to the normalisation of hate speech. Look, these articles say. Look at their clothes. Not their views. Not what those views mean. Not what those views lead to. Keep looking at the clothes, and how nice the clothes are. 

The rise of the far right isn’t a quirky trend. We simply cannot allow it to be normalised as though it were. 

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Post-Brexit bedfellows, and a story from Bahrain

A couple of years  ago, I worked on the Amnesty campaign to free Mahdi Abu Dheeb, a trade union activist arrested in Bahrain in 2011 following the Arab Spring uprising for organising a strike.  Under arrest, he was allegedly tortured by the regime and held in solitary confinement which in itself constitutes a form of torture.

As part of the campaign, I interviewed his young daughter Maryam. She remains one of the bravest and strongest women I’ve ever had the privilege to speak to. Just out of her teens when I spoke to her, she told me in detail about the horrors her family had endured since her father’s arrest.  She spoke eloquently about the kindness and generosity of her father. She told me about how she learnt of his arrest through Twitter – that he had been thrown from a second-floor window. For weeks the family didn’t know where Mahdi had gone – it was a month before they learnt he was still alive. It was another month before they saw him again – on trial for inciting hatred against the regime.

Maryam told me how her father looked ill in the courtroom and walked as if in intense pain. He wrote to her and her family to allege beatings, broken ribs and being hit with a hose. Arrested, allegedly tortured, sentenced for years in prison – all for calling a strike. All for standing up for teachers’ rights.

Today I saw on Twitter that Theresa May is in Bahrain attempting to ‘turbo-charge’ the UK’s relationship with Gulf States as we move out of the EU and need to find trading partners elsewhere.

Brexit brings us to strange bedfellows, it seems.

When we trade with the EU, we know that a certain standard of human rights and ethics will be upheld by our neighbour states, right? Okay: so it’s not guaranteed. There are EU states that have some dodgy records and are enacting some unpleasant policies – just look at Hungary. But, as a general rule, when a country applies to join the EU there’s an expectation on upholding human rights. There’s a degree of ambition. A promise of shared values.

Outside of the EU, and we’re going to have to start making trade deals with more controversial powers. On her trip to the Gulf, May be meet with dictators who execute people for sorcery and who flog men for blogposts. She’s in Bahrain where, as we’ve seen above, the post-Arab Spring crackdown was one of the most brutal in the region. She’s meeting leaders of countries where homosexuality is illegal and where thousands of migrant workers have died building footballing vanity projects.

It begs the question – how far are we prepared to go? The answer leaves a foul taste in my mouth. Are we willing as a country to give up our commitment to human rights and increase deals with the regime that beat up and disappeared Maryam’s father? Are we going to flaunt our commitment to freedom of speech and set up agreements with states that brutally suppress the written word? Are we going to congratulate ourselves on our equality legislation while signing contracts with nations where women are legally second-class; where LGBT communities are criminalised?

Is this the face of Brexit? More dinners with despots? Tea with tyrants?

None of this is new, of course, but it feels more pressing with the new world order Brexit is confronting us with.

After Castro died, I ended up breaking my “don’t watch political TV you’ll just get cross” rule and caught a bit of Marr. The debate was raging about the appropriate response to his death was. One of the panellists brought up that when ‘the dictator in Saudi Arabia died last year, the flag was flown at half mast at Buckingham Palace.’

‘You mean the King,’ Marr shot back.

Now, I’m not here to defend Castro’s human rights record. I once half-jokingly chatted about marrying a gay guy from the country after he fled the state-sponsored homophobia.

I’m just here to point out that changing the name of dictators, autocrats and leaders of repressive regimes to ‘King’ doesn’t make a difference to someone like Maryam. It doesn’t make the beatings allegedly afflicted upon her father any less painful.

I’d like May to use her time in Bahrain to meet Maryam, and the women like her who searched desperately for their relatives in the post Arab-Spring crackdown. I’d like her to meet the women who have refused to be silenced on the human rights violations committed in their countries. I’d like May to meet these women, and then try to justify ‘turbo-charged’ trade agreements with the men who call themselves Kings, rather than the names they deserve. 

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. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

For The Ched Evans case shows why we must start talking about consent

Friday was a tough day. 

That guy and his camera

Then the news that Evans had been acquitted, not least because the new evidence focused on his alleged victim's sexual history. 

So I did what any sensible woman does. Drank beer and watched Desperately Seeking Susan

And after I'd calmed down, I wrote this for about what the case tells us about consent and the need for sex and relationships education. 

Friday, 14 October 2016

A Friday morning violation

I'm writing this with my hands shaking and in a bit of delayed shock but need to get this out.

I was walking to work this morning, taking the new path down by Little Victories to the waterfront, by the M Shed, and some guy with an SLR and rolling-up-all-night-eyes-slurring-voice-party-clothes starts coming towards me. He's saying 'excuse me excuse me' and I say to him 'no thank you' in a firm voice.

Then he lifts up his camera and takes a photo of me, the flash going off in my face.


I start yelling at him - demanding what the fuck he thought he was doing, that it is a violation to take photos of people without their permission. I just kept yelling and yelling and yelling and he starts to say he did ask and I yelled no you did NOT. And I kept repeating that this was a violation of my space and he needs to delete the photo RIGHT NOW.

Then an awesome woman comes over and starts agreeing with me. Amazing woman - if you are reading this, THANK YOU! Not all heroes wear capes. She joined in my demand that he deleted the photo and then together we watched him get rid of it. You couldn't really see me in the photo just my jacket and the side of my face. But the point was, he should not have taken it and he had no right to keep it.

I wanted to write this down because men*, hear me now, in my rage.

Women are NOT your public property.

You do NOT have the right to shout at us, harass us, take our photos, assault us. We are not yours. Our bodies are our OWN.

When we walk down the street it is NOT an invitation to yell, snap, grope, grab, pinch, demand. We do not belong to you. Our being in public does not mean we are up for grabs. Our image is our own. Our bodies are our own.

I don't get mad often. But when I do, you don't want to be on the other end of it.

*not all men blah blah blah

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Writer-in-Residence at Spike Island

This seems to be the year of exciting news...

I'm really pleased to announce that Arts Council England have agreed to fund me to be the Writer in Residence at Bristol's Spike Island next year.

What this means in practise is that between January - May 2017 I'll be working within Spike, running literary events and writing my book.

So watch this space and the BWLF site for information about workshops, literary showcases, online reading groups and much, much more...

A huge thank you to Nicola, Ros, Andrew, Joe, Debi, Alex, Helen and everyone else who helped me through the application process.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

We grew up with this

I haven’t blogged for ages. Partly because I’ve been getting more commissions to write elsewhere. Partly because when it feels like the world is going to hell in a handcart, it’s hard to know what to add to the general chorus of mind-boggled despair. And partly because after nearly a decade of feminist blogging, it can feel hard to say the same thing, again, and again. 

I’ve also not written much about the Trump “thing”. You know. The thing that is Trump. The racism and the cruelty and the whole surreal shebang of a man wholly unqualified, wholly inexperienced and wholly awful suddenly a few points away from being one of the most powerful men in the world. What does one write about that? Better writers than me have tried. 

Today’s different. 

I can’t remember the first time I was groped. I know I was a teenager. I know it would have been around the time I was standing at bus stops in my school uniform while men beeped their horns and made obscene gestures, and I realised what being a woman was going to be like. I remember it happening in Paris - in fact I was still travelling into Paris, all excited and wide-eyed about my first holiday on my own, and the shock of assault. Another time when a much older man “gave me a hug” and stuck his face between my adolescent tits; another time in a club, in a bar… A hand going up my leg on a plane, being chased off a train, another time in Paris… The ones I remember, the ones that are a blur of forgetfulness.  

There’s a dull litany that every woman carries with her of those hands moving into spaces that don’t want them. The pushing away of hands. The lifting off of hands. The tight smile in response that means you don’t want to make a fuss but you also don’t want those hands on you. 

We grew up with this. 

We grew up learning that our bodies are public property. Fair game. We grew up with our mothers whispering in our ears about men and their hands. We grew up thinking about what we wore and what it meant. We grew up being told to be nice to men, not to think all men are dangerous, while simultaneously being told to be wary of men, because some men are dangerous. We grew up struggling with that balancing act of being nice and receptive to men, while never leading them on. We grew up trying to master this juggling act, because we grew up knowing we could always be blamed. 

We grew up learning a woman’s place is in the wrong. 

According to my Twitter timeline (never an accurate barometer of social thought it’s true, as proven in May 2015 and June 2016!), men have been shocked by Trump’s comments. 

Women aren’t. 

We aren’t shocked because we know what some men do. We know what it feels like to have our pussy grabbed, our arses groped, our tits pinched. We’ve known for years. Too many years.  

We know what it’s like to have to smile that tight, polite smile.  

We know what it’s like to feel you can’t walk away. 

We know what it’s like when someone reminds you that your body is not your own. 

We grew up with this. 

In their increasingly dumb-founded realisation that they’re stuck with this guy, Republicans have started falling over one another to condemn Trump’s sexual assault of women. 

They tell us that his actions demean ‘our wives, our daughters, our granddaughters’. 

Because women are only worth anything in our relationships to men. 

The idea that it is wrong to sexually assault a woman because she is a person with a body that is her own - with her own feelings and fears and humanity and autonomy - that’s beyond their comprehension. The idea that a woman shouldn’t be assaulted because she is a woman, her own woman. They can’t imagine. 

But that’s rape culture, right there. That’s rape culture talking in the same breath as the one they use to try and condemn sexual assault. 

Because rape culture says that women’s bodies don’t belong to us. They belong to the men who assault us. Or they belong to the men we’re related to. Rape culture tells us that women’s worth is measured on her being a daughter, a sister, a mother or a wife. 

Not on being a woman. 

Not on being a person. 

We know that. 

We grew up with this. 

So while desperate Republicans are trying to persuade us they care about women because they have female relatives, other commentators are trying to tell us that grabbing women by the vulva isn’t sexual assault at all. 

And that’s rape culture too, right? 

To say that violating a woman’s personal boundaries is a clumsy attempt at seduction. To say the comments are lewd - as if speaking the word pussy is beyond the pale but sticking your hand on one is a-ok. Let's pretend it’s not sexual assault, it’s just what guys do. Boys will be boys. Top bantz.

Women know this. We know what it’s like to be told not to complain. To keep quiet. Not to make a big deal out of it. We wouldn’t want to upset him, after all. We wouldn’t want to get him into trouble over just a bit of sexual assault. We wouldn’t want to make a fuss. It’s just a slap on the ass, a pinch of your tits, a hand on your thigh, a hand up your skirt. He didn’t mean it. He didn’t mean it. It was just a joke. It was just a clumsy attempt at seduction. What, are you going to criminalise flirting now?

Shut up like a good girl. 

I didn’t even go to the police when men set my hair on fire. 

Why would I? 

The only thing that surprises me about the Trump story and its fall out is that any man is surprised. 

Because women knew. 

We grew up with this. 

This post has since been republished at Wales Arts Review

Friday, 30 September 2016

Artist in Residence at Wales Arts Review

Really pleased to announce that I'll spend a month next year as a resident at Wales Arts Review.

Find out more

I'll be joining some really exciting artists, writers and musicians throughout the year and it's my first ever residency so suffice to say, I'm pretty chuffed!

Expect more poems, more short stories, more work...

More to follow...

Thursday, 22 September 2016

For open democracy: The Joyce Girl, and the mad wives of modernism

As you may know, I've spent the last three years researching and writing a book set in 1920s Paris. So I was thrilled to review another book set in the period, The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs

What was even more thrilling was the review gave me a chance to discuss some of the mad wives of modernism, and how patriarchal pressures silenced them. 

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

For the Heroine Collective: Kiki de Montparnasse

One of my absolute favourite women of the 1920s Left Bank is Kiki de Montparnasse.

You can read all about why as part of my Heroine Collective series.

Monday, 5 September 2016

For Halcyon Lit Mag: Two poems

Exciting news!

I started writing poems when I came back from Italy earlier this year.


And two of them were published this weekend in Halcyon Lit Mag.

One is called Notte Rossa.

And one is called Blue

There's a collection brewing, I'm sure of it.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

How to talk to women wearing headphones.


In response to the PUA thing doing the rounds explaining to men how to be ALPHA and talk to women wearing headphones.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

For the Heroine Collective: Dolly Wilde

The latest in my series of Left Bank women for the Heroine Collective is about Dolly Wilde.

She was rather fabulous but very, very sad.

Have a read.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Hoo Ha Fest Storytelling sessions: ebook is now live!

Did you come along to Hoo Ha Festival last week and tell a story with me?

Then good news: you can now buy the book packed with all 49 stories written over a jam-packed three days of storytelling fun!

You can download the ebook for your Kindle and Kindle app.


Buy the Hoo Ha Festival Storytelling Sessions ebook today

Monday, 15 August 2016

Creating a Hoo Ha at Colston Hall

Roll up roll up and tell your children to put their storytelling hat on. 

I'm running drop in creative writing workshops throughout the Hoo Ha festival this Weds-Fri. 

Join me as we create a storytelling spiderweb and afterwards, your kid's story will be published in an e-book. 

There's no times - just turn up and I'll work with you and your child to learn how to tell a story. 

And some of the time you can come and see me read from Greta and Boris: A daring rescue. 

Here are all the details.

Come see me - I'm FREE FUN!

Hoo Ha Festival - find out more

Sunday, 7 August 2016

For Spike Island: Claire Fuller and Our Endless Numbered Days

I recently interviewed Claire Fuller about her debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, as part of Spike Island's Novel Writers series.

Have a listen, if you so fancy.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

For the Heroine Collective: Brick Top

In my on-going series about the Women of 1920s Paris for the Heroine Collective, I've written about the rather fabulous Brick Top.

Have a read.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Flash Fiction: I thought I saw you today

I wrote this piece of flash over the weekend.

It's called:

I thought I saw you today

I thought I saw you, today.

You were sitting on the waterfront, your back to me, so I could only see the back of your head, and when I saw that back of a head, then a caterpillar of fear crawled up my spine and up and up the ridge of my neck. I could only see the back of your head but still I turned my face away until I had gone a few paces and then, fatal mistake of myth, I looked back, quick once, quick twice, quick three times, to see, for sure.

It wasn’t you, of course.

It was someone who looked like you had looked ten years ago. That same radical haircut.

‘I could never understand it,’ you said to me once. ‘You being so pretty and having such awful hair.’

The me of now would’ve retorted. Pots and kettles, mate, pots and kettles; my voice a joke mock cockney accent. I’d’ve laughed, too. The right kind of laugh.

I hadn’t laughed then. Instead, I’d bared my teeth in a contortion of an amenable smile and fingered the ends of my hair.

It was just someone who looked like you had looked ten years ago. The same radical haircut, the rolled cigarette between small fingers, the sunglasses of the kind that came from a second-hand store, a similar tentative smile of trying to fit.

It wasn’t you, of course it wasn’t you, and as my steps put distance between the wasn’t-you and me, the caterpillar that signalled fear cocooned and was replaced by a hot sting of anger that reddened my shoulders and my face as I thought how it would be to turn back, to turn back right here, right now, in front of the Friday night drinkers and the buskers and the beggars and the gulls; to turn back right here and face you and lift you up by your elbow and say all the things I never had the chance to say.

To say it all, and because this is a fantasy, when I speak my voice won’t be high and faltering like my voice always is in emotion. No, my voice will be hard and it will glow with power as it dins into your head everything you never had the chance to hear, until you couldn’t forget any of it; you couldn’t forget any of it.

To say it. All of it.

I can allow myself to imagine this because it’s not you, is it. I can allow myself to imagine this because it’s not you, sat there outside, with the Friday night drinkers and the buskers and the beggars and the gulls, it’s just someone who looked like you had looked ten years ago.

You said I was strong, once. You said I was strong but I was never strong with you. I was meek like a child. I tried hard like a child. And then, in the moments when I was strong, when I bared my teeth and my tongue and told you the truth, you called it a lie.

Back home now. The you who is not you but just someone who looked like you had looked ten years ago carries on their evening with friends who look, perhaps, like we all looked, ten years ago.

And I wonder if I’ll ever really be able to write you, really.