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