Wednesday, 21 June 2017

A quick, personal reflection on health and safety

One of the stories I grew up with as a kid was the story of when my granddad’s friend died. 
It was a ghost story – or that’s how it was told when we were kids. A premonition by my spiritualist great-nana. 

The story was this. 

My granddad had a job on the steelworks in Shotton. He and his friend were sat side-by-side, eating their lunch. A load of steel fell from a great height and killed his friend. 

This happened in the era before ‘health and safety’ or ‘elf and safety’ as it is called by Richard Littlejohn, a man for whom humour is defined by ‘putting on a funny accent’.

When you’ve grown up with stories like this, you don’t understand the demonization of health and safety regulations. The fervent desire of the Tory Party to rip up the red tape that protects our health and safety makes no sense. 

The hatred of health and safety can only come from people who have only ever been healthy and safe. Who haven’t had to work with huge containers of steel dangling precariously above their head. Who didn’t, as my dad did, witness his friends die as bombs hit his ship. Who didn’t die, as my granddad did, less than ten years after retirement having spent a chunk of his life working in a manual labour job. 

Health and safety saves lives. The idea that regulations which prevent work-placed deaths are somehow something to mock comes from a position of privilege. The idea that regulations are something to declare war on comes from a position of privilege. 

When David Cameron and Steve Hilton dreamt up their Red Tape Challenge, they did it from the position of flirting with businesses who saw regulation as a barrier to profit. 

They didn’t do it from a position of watching their friend crushed under tonnes of steel during their lunch break. 

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

For the New Statesman: Barring Northern Irish women from NHS abortions is no technicality

Last week I seemed to write a lot about abortion rights.

Here I am in the New Statesman writing about how the Supreme Court's decision to deny NI women NHS abortions was a deeply political act.

Have a read

For Prospect UK: Women’s bodies are under threat—so why don’t they get the same attention as gay rights?

My debut for Prospect UK was published last week.

It's called: Women’s bodies are under threat—so why don’t they get the same attention as gay rights?

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

From Trump to Guido - the sexist genie must go back in the bottle

On 9th November I was up at 6am hastily rewriting an article about how Trump’s Presidential campaign had let the sexism genie out the bottle and that it was going to be hard to put it back in. The rewrite was due to the fact the first draft had relied on Clinton winning… but anyway. I wrote:

This is one of the many terrifying things about the advent of Trump's presidency. His success sends a message that you can boast about abusing women's bodily integrity and still become the most powerful man in the world. His success sends a message that it is okay to use physically and sexually violent rhetoric when talking about women, and win. Throughout his whole campaign, he has appealed to that section of men who believe they are entitled to women's bodies. He has fired up a section of men who believe that women are second-class citizens. His language and his actions have given sexists and misogynists not only comfort, but legitimacy.

I was reminded by this article because I woke up this morning to a tweet (the link goes to my tweet, not his) from Guido Fawkes where he “joked” about ‘consoling’ Diane Abbott, accompanied by a selfie of him in bed with her face photoshopped on the pillow next to him. 

I saw this tweet, and I thought about what I wrote in November. Because it feels part of the same trajectory - the increased normalisation of sexism and, in Abbott’s case, racism that make it okay to write sexual jokes - even threatening sexual jokes - about women MPs and women in the public eye. 

It’s important to note that Fawkes isn’t some random egg troll. He’s a well-known, widely-read political commentator. And he thinks it’s acceptable to photoshop a woman MP’s face in bed next to him, while joking about ‘consoling’ her. 

As a woman writing online, I instantly recognised Fawkes’ ‘play’ with his tweet. I’ve been on the receiving end of it myself. It’s the ‘she just needs a good shagging, that’ll shut her up’. It’s the idea that if women complain about the state of the world or the way they’ve been treated, it’s because we’re ‘frustrated’ and we just need a man to sort them out. 

You may remember David Cameron using that tactic to shut up Nadine Dorries. And I HATE having to defend Nadine Dorries. 

Put simply, this attitude is rooted in the idea that women who speak out are actually just incredibly undesirable to men and our anger is actually due to the fact that no men will have sex with us. If we could just find a man willing to ‘take one for the team’ and have sex with us, we’ll shut the fuck up. 

It’s quite a sexually threatening thing to say. It’s certainly completely unacceptable for a political commentator - indeed anyone - to say about a woman in the public eye, or, indeed, any woman. 

These kinds of comments have one clear purpose and one purpose only. They are to remind women that no matter how successful we are, no matter how long we’ve been an MP, no matter how much we have survived to get to where we are today, we are just an object to be deemed fuck-able or not by a man. We’re just objects to use and abuse. We’re either too ugly for men to want to fuck us, so we’ve failed as acceptable women. Or we’re too sexy for our own good, and therefore not to be taken seriously. We can never be seen as fully human woman doing our jobs, getting on with our lives.

It didn’t start with Trump. There was Letts in the Daily Mail bemoaning how ugly British women MPs were long before Donald started his march to the White House. But I do think the kind of rhetoric that Trump indulged in during his campaign, and which he actively encouraged from his supporters, helped to normalise this kind of language. He gave legitimacy to the idea that men could make crude sexual comments about women politicians to try and undermine their campaign. Now we have a political journalist ‘joking’ about how he’s helping out the Shadow Home Secretary by having sex with her. 

This is not okay. We have to get the sexist, racist genie back in its bottle. Whatever anyone thinks of Diane Abbott or Labour or their policies, they need to stand up against this kind of nasty misogynoir. This nasty, schoolboy sexism that puts women into fuck-able and unfuck-able categories. That tells women to just shut up and get shagged. 

Because as long as men like Fawkes think it’s okay to write this kind of nasty sexist bullshit, women will continue to be undermined, silenced and told that political power and political office is not for them. 

Women MPs need to be criticised, questioned and held to account just like their male counterparts. 

Women MPs - women everywhere - should not be subjected to gross, sexualised comments that seek to shut us up. 


No male MP gets that. No male MP expects that. 

Friday, 2 June 2017

For 3am magazine: Passeport (short story)

Oh yeah I had a short story published!

At the very clever 3am magazine.

It's called Passeport.

And I am super proud of it.

For OD 5050 - Books for bleak times: a reading list from six British feminists

I spoke to some of my favourite women about the books we turn to in bleak political times.

Have a read

Thanks to Caroline Criado-Perez, Sarah Ditum, Helen Lewis, Bidisha, Nimco Ali and Joanna Walsh for taking part!

For politics.co.uk: A big Conservative win could see fewer women in parliament

This article was almost out of date when it went out, and could be even more out of date now, if we all vote Labour and stop the Tory landslide!

Friday, 19 May 2017

For the Guardian: A moment that changed me

I wrote an essay for the Guardian series A Moment That Changed Me.

It's about the experience of moving in on my own.

Have a read.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Endings - a poem

Last year I wrote a bunch of poems and two of them were published (Blue and Notte Rossa). 

This one was my favourite, though, and because it's the ending of my residency, and the poem is called Endings, I thought I'd share it. 

Endings

When you told me:
"You're no good at endings."
and I cried.
My face pressed up against the bobbled grey sheets
of another borrowed bed.
The city outside 
with its heaving multitudes 
doesn't exist. 
But we can't contain our whole existence 
in this:
a borrowed room. 

I'm no good at endings.
And so I don't know how to end this; 
our holiday. 
I leave it to you
to leave me instead. 
I stand,
naked, framed by door.
You, half
nude descending a staircase. 

Is it because I'm no good at endings
that I cry when the plane takes off?
The air stretching vertical between me
and the place that still holds you.
Alarming the correct couple sat beside me
as they reflect on their holiday photos,
first on one lit screen,
and then on another.
The sunflowers that had bobbed in welcome,
only visible from arrivals. 

I go to funerals on my own.
I wake, panting, from a nightmare.
These moments when I wonder if it's worth not being
alone.
If it's worth having someone
to stand, tear-wet hand-clasped with,
at funerals.
Someone to smooth your hair when a ghost lifts you up 
unexpectedly 
in sleep.

I get drunk under a blurry sky.
I flirt with a Frenchman,
and then I flirt with
another Frenchman.
He pokes my stomach.
My mouth a moue. 

It all seems such a waste of time
when the end result is not
you. 

There must be a reason for me to stand:
naked, framed by door,
my body a strobe in black.
A white flag in the dawn dark.
Watching your back move away from me,
again. 
Like I watch the towns escape one by one behind me
on the train home,

like I watch the Alps shrink beneath me,
my nose pressed against a postage stamp of white light,
until they are reduced to 
papier-mache proportions. 
The heel of my hand is wet with
wiped-away tears.
The couple beside me say:
"It's so much easier to go on holiday now the kids are grown."



One day I'd quite like to collect all the poems I wrote last summer into a pamphlet. But who knows...


Sunday, 30 April 2017

Four months in Spike Island

Four months ago, I arrived at Spike Island’s residency studio - the days and weeks gloriously stretched out in front of me full of opportunity for writing and events-organising. It felt like four months would last forever and yet today I have to pack up my little room and wave goodbye to the most wonderful time of my life. 

I’ve done a lot in four months. Here’s a few of my highlights. 

Writing

The aim of the residency was, of course, to do some writing! And my god, write I did. There was something transformative about having the physical space to work in - physical space that opened up mental and emotional space within me. I edited another draft of my Paris book (The Red Deeps) so that it was ready to send out to agents and publishers. And with that done, I turned my attention to a new project, a new idea - rattling out the first draft of a new novel exploring issues around refugees and migration. It’s rough, it’s messy, but it’s a first draft and I have high hopes for its development. So, how about that? Two books under my belt, one (pretty much) complete and one about to go on a re-drafting, re-editing journey. 

Plus I wrote a few articles too, for the New Statesman, politics.co.uk, and Open Democracy. I even squeezed in some freelance copywriting too, and have a short story coming out on 3am magazine in the next few weeks. 

Salons

One of my main aims for the residency was to find ways to bring together established and emerging talent into Spike Island. With my salons, I was able to invite some of my favourite writers and invite open mic attendees to share their work too. 

The first one in February featured Shagufta Iqbal, Vera Chok and Miles Chambers.



Then in March I invited Tania Hershman, Bidisha and Holly Corfield-Carr.



And yesterday I was joined by Eley Williams, Amy Key and Ben Gwalchmai. Yesterday was also the first time I shared work from The Red Deeps. It was a real joy for me to read from the Paris book in my wonderful studio. 



Workshops

Looking up to see 25 children aged 5-12 expecting me to teach them creative writing was one of the most intimidating experiences of my life. It went well though - with the amazing children of Bristol learning to tell stories with the help of multi coloured cardboard squares and felt tip pens. 

This was followed by 25 adults engaging with Lubaina Himid’s exhibition to write poetry and short fiction. 

And finally on the sunniest day of the year so far, 12 intrepid writers chose to sit in a windowless room to discuss redrafting techniques and share our ideas and thoughts on how we approach editing. 

I also worked with three schools - delivering workshops on how to write dialogue (with the help of Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants) and on feminism, gender and the media. 

Mentoring

Collaborating with Rife magazine, I had the brilliant opportunity to work with Kaja Brown. Kaja’s a fantastically talented young writer working on a novel trilogy. Together we looked at her manuscript and explored ways of editing it. Kaja also came to the second salon event to perform her short story during the open mic. It was the first time Kaja had read her work in public and I was super proud of her. She has a bright future ahead. 

1920s Paris

During the residency I ran an online reading group featuring work from my favourite writers living and working on the Left Bank in the 1920s. I also published an e-book of essays about the remarkable women who made their own literary and artistic community during this fascinating period. 

Press coverage

I got lots of press and publicity for the residency, including in:


And I think that’s it!

It really has been the most wonderful, exciting and inspiring experience of my life. I have to pay a massive tribute to the team at Spike Island - Helen, Georgia, Lizzie and Jane - who have been so supportive and kind throughout the four months and in the run-up too. I know we will be working together again in the future. 


Thursday, 27 April 2017

For politics.co.uk: a vote for Theresa May is not a vote for women

I had a look for politics.co.uk at Theresa May's record on women's issues - including her and her government's work on male violence against women, reproductive rights, poverty and refugee rights.

I was not impressed although there is some good stuff in there.

Have a read.

Friday, 21 April 2017

For OD 50 50: The Things I Would Tell You review

I reviewed The Things I Would Tell You, ed by Sabrina Mahfouz, for OD 50:50

Have a read.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

For politics.co.uk: The good side of a bad policy: Harsh migration law blocks forced marriages

I wrote for politics.co.uk about how the minimum income requirement on the spousal visa law could be having an impact on reducing forced or early marriage.

Have a read.

Monday, 17 April 2017

For the New Statesman: How Romania's feminists are fighting back

Check me out - lead story on the New Statesman website!


Yes, I wrote about the feminist movement in Romania with particular focus on the fight back against a rise in anti-abortion rhetoric.

Have a read

Now to find someone to commission me to write something big on feminism in Romania with a fully expenses paid trip to Bucharest...

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Interview with Epigram magazine

I talked to Epigram magazine about writing, the residency, politics and feminism.

Includes bonus sneak preview of my favourite sentence of the Paris Book.

Have a read!

Friday, 7 April 2017

For politics.co.uk: The government's rape clause is a callous attack on victims

The headline says it all!

I wrote a (and I quote) 'sustained, forensic morally clear-sighted outraged' piece about the Conservative government's cut to child tax credits and its resultant rape clause.

Please read this. The treatment of vulnerable women by this government is truly truly shocking. To the point where I had to go back and re-check the source because I simply struggled to believe that this law could be real.

It is.

Have a read.

For OD 50:50 - a review of Cordelia Fine's Testosterone Rex

I was very lucky to interview the brilliant Cordelia Fine during her whistle-stop UK book tour.

This was the result.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

On being a woman, on her own, at night

I’ve had a really bad run on street harassment lately. 

Really bad.

There was the drunk man in Bedminster Asda. Then, a couple of weeks ago, a guy started following me at Gaol Ferry Bridge. Not only was this startlingly reminiscent of when I was chased through King’s Cross Station, it was the moment of panic that if I got caught at the pedestrian crossing he would catch up with me. Luckily there was no traffic, I got across, took a longer, better-lit route home, and then moaned about it on Twitter.

Yesterday on the train home from London I sat next to a drunk man. He was really pissed but he was friendly enough. When I asked him to move to let me off at my stop, he clamped his hand on my thigh to haul himself to standing. It was drunken rather than malicious but let’s be honest, he wouldn’t have used me as a prop if I were a bloke. 

Then on the way home from the station a group of very drunk teenagers confronted me as I walked down East St, the lad yelling ‘woah look at her’ etc and then hit me in the face. (note: he didn’t slap or punch me, this was no black eye or bloody nose incident - he hit his hand against my glasses in a drunken weird swing. He hit me in the face but not hard.)

I flipped out, of course I did. Swore at them and asked them what the fuck they were doing. As always happens, they just laughed at me and mimicked my stupid high voice and then yelled at me to fuck off. The rest of the walk home I just tried not to cry because I didn’t want to look vulnerable. When I got home I poured a large glass of wine and moaned about it on Twitter

I’ve been trying to work out why it’s been so bad recently. I can’t blame Brexit and Trump for everything. And then last night it hit me. It’s since I started living on my own. 

When I lived with my ex boyfriend, about 2/3 - 3/4 of the times I was out at night, I was walking with him. Men don’t harass you when other men are around. Once a group of lads started harassing me, realised I was with my then boyfriend, and apologised to *him*. They didn’t want to encroach on his property after all! The fact that men don’t harass women in front of other men is one of the issues we have in being believed…

Now when I am out on the streets at night I am on my own. There’s no man to shield me. So of course I am noticing that I am getting harassed a lot more. 

I’m so fed up.

Because what can I do? I can’t afford to get taxis everywhere. I simply can’t. Buses in Bristol are stupidly expensive too, and not very reliable. Walking is my best mode of getting around. I don’t want to have to spend money that I don’t have because as a woman on my own in the city I am a target for harassment and violence. 

Also, I *like* walking. It’s my main form of exercise. I love walking through the city in the day and night - I want to be able to walk home after sitting on a train for two hours or in the office for eight. I want to walk home from the pub instead of having to negotiate taxi drivers or bus timetables, searching for pound coins, getting annoyed by drunk passengers. I shouldn’t be denied the freedom to walk around. And I certainly shouldn't have to spend money because of men’s violent behaviour towards women. Men don’t have to spend this money. Men don’t have to take themselves off the streets. 

I just feel so beaten down by it. I’m so exhausted by it. I was fourteen years old the first time men harassed me on the street. I’m 32 now. That’s 18 years. 18 years of being yelled at and groped and now hit. 

It shakes you up, too. 

Take this morning. I’m writing this having come home from the supermarket. On the way back, a man bowled out a pub doorway straight into me, gave me a filthy look, so I apologised to him. And then I started crying. Not because I’m weak or a wuss. But because I am knackered. I am exhausted of having to negotiate space all the time - of having to move out the way, of having to make myself small, of having to apologise for taking up public space, of having to endlessly consider the best way home, the safest route, of having to endlessly think about what I’m wearing and what I’m doing and who is looking. 

I can’t afford to taxi and bus everywhere. I don’t want to. I shouldn’t have to give up walking. 

A couple of years ago I went to an event where Iain Sinclair and Matthew Beaumont talked about walking in the city at night. 

Sinclair in particular talked about the freedom of night-walking, the anonymity it gives you, the fact that when you walk at night you move unseen, an observer. The ultimate flaneur. 

Thinking about that talk makes me want to cry again.

Imagine having that freedom. Imagine how it must feel to walk around feeling anonymous and confident and watching everyone else. 

Imagine having that privilege. 

Imagine having that unquestioned right. 

I can’t. 


I’m so tired of it. 

Update: On advice from a few friends, I decided to report this to the police. Not that I expect them to do anything, but because at least then it is noted that this sort of thing happens to women, and is recognised as not acceptable. I never report anything but actually in this case he did hit my face, and the things that happen to women should be noted down somewhere, surely? So yes, feels a bit odd to have done so but it can't harm. 

Another update: the police emailed me to say the report 'will be filed pending any positive line of enquiry coming to light.' 

Sorry Washington Post, but we do need the vagina as a symbol of protest

On the 21st January 2017, women in every continent gathered on the streets to protest the election of Donald Trump - a man who boasted of grabbing pussies, was accused by over a dozen women of sexual assault, was accused of child rape, and was accused of rape by his ex-wife (she later retracted the claim saying he didn’t do it in a criminal way). I was there - raising my voice against the men who try to silence us through violence. 

Many of the women on the global marches wore ‘pussy hats’. These handmade pink hats were designed as a rebuke to the dehumanising, sexually violent language of Trump. They were a symbol against the very specific assault of this presidency against women’s bodies - from the pussies he grabbed to the wombs he immediately legislated against

The wearing of the pussy hats was important to so many women, as quoted in Paul Mason’s report from the march: 

“I can’t stand the colour pink, and that hat looks really shitty on me. But right now it’s my most precious material possession. I’m betting there are lots of people out there who will look at their hats and remember that they need to do something – not just today, but tomorrow and the next.”

A week later, I was on another march - this time protesting the anti-Muslim ban. One protest in another city requested that attendees left their pussy hats and uterus-emblazoned placards at home, over concerns that they were ‘exclusionary’. 

I was going to write about this at the time, but I’ve been writing a novel so haven’t done much political blogging. However, this issue raised its head again this week, with an op-ed in the Washington Post by Phoebe Maltz Bovy. In her article, Maltz Bovy asks us to drop the vagina as a protest symbol. She again cites the idea that it’s exclusionary (‘The obvious problem with vagina-motif protest is that it leaves out some women’); and that the use of vagina erases women’s experiences:

“The vast majority of women do indeed have vaginas, but they aren’t preoccupied by that fact day to day. Vagina possession doesn’t explain why Mary voices an idea in a meeting but the boss listens only when Jim repeats it. When Kate does the dishes again, it isn’t because Bob’s genitalia prevented him from loading the dishwasher. Yes, reproduction and child-care-related issues, not to mention sexual assault and domestic abuse, disproportionately affect women, and often involve women’s genitals. But even the women’s issues with some relationship to female anatomy aren’t really about vaginas.”

In her extraordinary book, When I Hit You, Meena Kandasamy describes repeated brutal rape by her husband:

When I’m through, what you have will be torn and tattered […] This is the aim of his rapes, all this rough sex. Not just a disciplining, but a disabling”

I include this quote to make the point that talking about our vaginas and what men do to them is important, that there’s a reason so much male violence is centred on our vaginas and wombs (pregnancy is a real risk factor in DVA). Biology is not destiny - that is a key demand of feminism. What this means is that so far, men’s oppression of women has been tied up absolutely in biology. The feminist fight is the fight to liberate ourselves from this oppression. We can’t do that, however, unless we are allowed to talk about it. 

After all, there’s a reason the American Senate tried to ban the word ‘vagina’ in their debates. 

The fact is, I would love it if we could drop the vagina as a protest symbol. I would love it if we could retire our placards shouting ‘get your rosaries off my ovaries.’ Do you think I’m not sick of this shit? Do you think I want to carry on shouting about my vagina and what men think they are entitled to do to it? Do you think I want to carry on waving a metal coat hanger in the air and demanding my reproductive rights? No! I want to finish my novel! 

It wasn’t us who made it about our wombs and vaginas. It wasn’t us who created the reason for our pussy hats. 

It was Trump.

Trump, and all the men around him. 

Trump made it about our pussies when he boasted about grabbing them.

He made it about our wombs when he signed away abortion support for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable women. When his Freedom Caucus got together and signed away funding for maternal healthcare. When attacks on Planned Parenthood mean attacks on abortion rights, as well as care for ovarian and cervical cancer. 

Men make it about our pussies when they rape 1500 women in the UK every week. 

Men make it about our uteruses when they force women and girls to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. 

Men make it about our genitals when in slums across the developing world, women are raped and assaulted as they go to the toilet. 

Men make it about our genitals when they say a good woman is a cut woman. 

Men make it about our genitals and wombs when they tax tampons and use the money to fund anti-choice organisations

I am a fervent and true supporter of inclusivity and I know that the proposed bans on pussy hats came from a well-meaning place of ensuring trans and non binary people did not feel excluded. 

This matters. We need to practice intersectionality as feminists and we need to make sure we are inclusive and kind. But when we try and ban mention of pussies and vaginas and wombs in the name of inclusivity, we are in fact ignoring how the attacks on women’s bodies and bodily autonomy is in itself an act of exclusion.

All the issues I cite above are centred in intersectional feminism - from the fact that wealth and class privilege makes it easier to access abortion in countries where it is criminalised, to the dangers of going to the toilet for women in the global south. This latter issue is so, so ignored, by the way.

Take the abortion ban in Ireland. For women carrying to term a foetus with a fatal abnormality, they are literally locked into their homes. They can’t go out because of the trauma involved in having to either repeatedly explain to people that their baby will die, or lie about it. The laws on abortion exclude women from society. 

Or take the abortion ban everywhere. Women die every day because they cannot access safe, legal abortion. Male lawmakers’ obsession with women’s wombs excludes women in that it kills us. 

The rapes and attacks on women that happen every day in every corner of the world seek to exclude women from public space - and again, these attacks exclude us absolutely when male violence kills us. 

Language matters. 

We have to be able to name what happens to us. We have to be able to name the body parts that are under attack by male power and male violence. We have to be able to say that men attack our pussies and vaginas; that men legislate against our uteruses; that men do this because we are women and our oppression is a biological oppression. 

There was a case of mass rape in Bolivia where women couldn’t accuse their perpetrators because they had never been taught the names of their genitals. They couldn’t describe what had happened to them because they didn’t have the word ‘vagina’. This lack of language excluded them from justice. 

Women’s bodies have been unspeakable for so long. We have been denied a voice to name our oppression for so long. 

That’s why as long as men try and attack my vagina and the vaginas of my sisters, then I will shout the word as loud as I can. As long as men try and attack my womb and the womb of my sisters, then I will shout the word as loud as I can. 

To name the attacks on our vaginas and wombs is not exclusionary. 


To try and deny women the language to speak about what patriarchy does to us - that really is. 

Friday, 31 March 2017

For The Modernist Review: modernism, Paris and the women of the Left Bank

I spoke to the Modernist Review about Stein, my fascination with the 1920s Left Bank Women, and my residency at Spike Island.

Have a read!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

For Wales Arts Review: The Meaning of International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day everyone!

I contributed to this piece on Wales Arts Review about the meaning of IWD and what it means to me.

And remember, I'll be writer-in-residence at Wales Arts Review during July writing about issues around the refugee crisis.

Have a read.

Monday, 6 March 2017

For Bristol Festival of Ideas: in conversation with Nimko Ali

On Thursday 25 May you can come and see me and Nimko Ali talk about vaginas as part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas.

What a treat!

Of course we won't just be talking about vaginas. We'll be talking about Nimko's amazing history of activism, her huge achievements in the fight to end FGM, the importance of having open and honest conversations about women's bodies and lives... and no doubt we'll have a giggle and perhaps shed a few tears too.

To book your tickets, visit the Bristol Festival of Ideas.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

For Open Democracy 50 50: Should domestic abuse have its own law?

I wrote this for Open Democracy 5050 on whether domestic abuse should have its own law.

I'm really proud of it, I think it's a really important piece and I hope you share this view!

A huge thank you to Harriet Wistrich, Olivia Piercy and Naomi for talking to me.

Have a read and please share

Friday, 17 February 2017

Amnesty International asked about online abuse. Here's what I had to say.

Amnesty International put a call out on Twitter asking women about their experiences of online abuse. Here's what I sent to them...

The incident I reported to the police happened on Facebook. I'd been involved in a campaign around the normalisation of sexual objectification in Bristol, which had attracted a lot of local press attention. I was the spokesperson so was very visible. Things built up and eventually a young man posted on Facebook that I was a cunt, he was going to post my address details online and 'make me pay'. I wrote about this for the Guardian at the time.

Another man joked about kicking me in the vagina.

That's the stand out incident, but online abuse happens all the time. I wrote about abortion issues and I had a man call me a 'fucking baby killer'. This particular individual targeted me repeatedly, commenting on every blogpost I wrote. He'd start off polite then it would build up until he'd call me names such as 'fucking feminazi bitch'

He had a really common name. Every time I saw that name afterwards it would make me really uncomfortable. Once I saw his name in a conference line-up and had a real triggered reaction. It wasn't the same man but the same name. I know the man who used to comment on my blog worked in academia and it bothers me that he might work with students when his attitudes to women are so disgusting and violent.

I wrote about Fathers 4 Justice and a man in the comments said he hoped 'some cunt raped' me, because I was a 'fucking fascist'.

More recently I've experienced the 'pile on'. I tweeted a joke about Boris Johnson and had around 200 @ messages in an hour ranging from the mild (of the 'you stupid feminist bitch' variety) to the obscene (men saying what they would do to me sexually). On another occasion I deleted a tweet after within 5 minutes I had 5 @ messages all quoting the tweet, and all the avatars were naked pictures of men.

More recently I tweeted about an Amazon advert and a man told me to drink a bottle of floor cleaner, alongside the usual sexist slurs.

The scary thing about pile-ons is you don't know when they will stop. After the Boris Johnson joke I was still getting unpleasant messages 24 hours later. You feel very vulnerable, you feel like this is it now, it's never going to stop.

I feel that when people excuse men's behaviour online, they resort to the line 'he didn't think you were a real person, it's just online so it's not real'. I think this is nonsense. It is just another form of victim blaming. It re-enforces the message that women are not human. It says that women cause the problem by being online.

I've had rape threats, death threats, threats to my safety, been called names, had men send obscene images, had men fantasise about what they would do to me sexually. They didn't do this thinking it wasn't real. They did this to bully, intimidate and most importantly of all to silence me.

I won't be silenced.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

How the Remain campaign broke all the rules of advertising

So last night parliament voted that we would trigger Article 50 with none of the amendments proposed - including amendments that would guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, and protect the Good Friday agreement. 

There’s a lot of anger flying around today. A lot of people angry with Corbyn and Labour, a lot of people angry with May and the Tories, a lot of people angry with UKIP and Farage. And, I imagine, a lot of people are thrilled with May and the Tories and with UKIP and Farage and, to be honest, ambivalent about Corbyn and Labour. 

I’m angry, though. And today I am particularly angry with David Cameron for calling the blasted referendum in the first place - a man whose arrogance and hubris led him to stake the future of the country on an internal party battle that barely anyone outside of the Commons Back Benches gave a flying fuck about. 

And I’m angry with the Remain gang for their lack-lustre, doom-laden campaign in the run-up to the 23rd June. I’m angry with them because they could have won the referendum. They just needed to hire a decent advertising agency. 

So here is my post about how I could have won the EU Referendum, if the Remain campaign had hired a fundraising copywriter from Bristol

I’d start with this picture:



This is a picture of me and my niece the day she was born. My sister-in-law is Romanian. Thanks to the free movement of people, my beautiful niece and nephew are in my life. My family is made richer because of the EU. My nephew’s school is made brighter with him in it. In the future, my niece and nephew will get jobs that will bring money into the UK economy. Already, their childish needs are causing us all to spend money (mostly on lego) - strengthening the UK economy. Who knows what their futures will hold, who knows what contributions they will make to our country. 

Who knows what futures in the UK will be lost now, when we leave the EU and new families can’t be made, new romances will never blossom, new babies will not be born and new futures will not develop and grow. 

In the 2012 film NO starring the delightful Gael Garcia-Bernal, Chile calls a referendum on whether Pinochet should stand down. The No campaign (calling for Pinochet to go) immediately start putting ads together showcasing the terrible human rights abuses perpetuated by the Chilean government. They put together showreels of mass graves and torture prisons. It was horrible. It was depressing. It was never going to win votes. 

Enter Gael Garcia-Bernal. He proposed a campaign that would show what life would be like without Pinochet. He shot films of families having wonderful days out. He created a vision of freedom. He suggested a better world, a happier world, where everyone had a voice and a life of their own to live and love. He promised a better future. 

'No' won the referendum. 

People voted for a better future. 

This is what the Remain campaign should have done. 

Not just a picture of my niece. 

But a case study of a cancer patient whose life-saving treatment was funded by EU money. 

Of a crime survivor whose perpetrator was arrested thanks to cross EU participation. 

Of an artist or writer or film maker whose work was produced with the help of EU funds.

Of a farmer who was able to expand their agriculture business because of EU subsidies. 

Of a student completing a placement in Venice. 

Of a worker collaborating with a team in Bucharest. 

Of a pensioner enjoying retirement in Spain. 

Of a couple finding their way around France using 3G without roaming charges. 

They should have celebrated how being part of Europe enriched the UK. They should have told the positive story. The story of families brought together, of jobs created, of creative arts enriched, of science advanced.

They should have sold us a future we could believe in and vote for. 

The EU wasn’t perfect. Isn’t perfect. Remain and reform - that’s what was needed (although my reforms probably not the ones Cameron was after). And I know my layers of protective privilege mean that I have not been impacted by the problems EU membership can cause.  

But the Remain campaign did nothing to tell us why we should stay in the EU. All they did was tell us how much we would suffer if we left. They were giving us the mass graves of the Chilean campaign, while the Leave guys played the Gael-Garcia Bernal game. 

Having worked in advertising for nearly a decade, I have learnt a thing or two. And one of the things we all know is that you don’t try and sell things by telling people how bad everything is. You don’t sell a car by saying the other cars are shit. You sell a car by making people think that the car will make them better, sexier, cooler, faster, dreamier. You sell on the benefits of your car, not the failings of the competitor.  

The same applies for fundraising advertising. Sometimes you fundraise with upsetting images or heartbreaking stories. But successful fundraising never leads on ‘give now or the kid gets it.’ You tell a positive story about what a person’s donation can achieve. You tell them about the child’s transformed life - you show them the difference school can make, you show a child happy and healthy drinking clean water. You don’t say everything will be awful if you don’t give. You say everything will be better if you do give. 

The Remain campaign broke every single simple rule of advertising. They led on dire predictions. They sold Remain as the lesser of two evils. Rather than selling Remain as something that would be good for the UK, they focused on how Leave would be bad for the UK. 

No one votes for something because it might be shit but probably not as shit as the other thing. No one buys a car because it might break down but probably won’t break down as much as the other one. No one gives to charity because the kid might die but then again she might not. 

You vote for something because you believe it will bring a better future. You buy a car because you think it’ll make you look better. You give to charity because you believe it’ll transform a life. 

Of course, a better ad campaign would not have changed the minds of those determined to vote Brexit. But there were people who were on the fence, who might have had their minds changed to Remain. They were let down by a weak, lack lustre, doom-laden advertising campaign. They were not given something to vote for. 

As we face a Tory Hard Brexit, I feel so angry with how badly the Remain campaign let this country down with their predictions of World War Three and economic meltdown. 

It would have been so easy to tell the positive story of Remain. To celebrate the EU and good things it brings. 


They failed. 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Interview in Bristol 24/7

Lovely lovely Joe Melia interviewed me about the Spike Island residency for Bristol 24/7

It''s also in the print edition so look out for my face lurking around...

Have a read

Saturday, 28 January 2017

New book: ...and Paris is my hometown

Exciting news!

As part of my Spike Island residency, I have published an eBook of biographical essays about the women of 1920s Paris.

It's called ...and Paris is my hometown

which is a Gertrude Stein quote.



The majority of the essays were published by The Heroine Collective throughout 2016 and I am very grateful to their lovely editor Kate Kerrow for contributing the Foreword to the collection. There are some extra exciting tidbits in the anthology though so it's worth your time!

...and Paris is my hometown includes essays celebrating the life and work of Gertrude Stein, Colette, Sylvia Beach, Josephine Baker, Kiki de Montparnasse and many, many more.

Please purchase the book today.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

For Trump supporters, freedom of speech was only ever for straight, white men

Ten years ago today I set up my blog! To celebrate my Ten Year Blog-a-versary I am writing about freedom of speech, which I am exercising by writing this blog. 

The signs were there. Of course they were. When Putin, Erdogan and Sisi – leaders known for locking up journalists at alarming rates – are among the first to congratulate your Presidency, attacks on freedom of speech won’t be far behind. 

Still, day four? 


Before I went to bed last night, I saw that journalists in the USA had been arrested during the protests on Friday 20 January. These journalists were doing their job: reporting and recording a news story. Whatever happens next in their case, it’ll be harder now for journalists to report on protest in the USA. It’ll be riskier, and so fewer protests will be recorded.

Around the same time, Trump’s administration banned employees of the Environmental Protection Agency from posting on social media. As a result, environmentalists have ‘gone rogue’ in a strange new world where ‘going rogue’ means using your professional social media account to tweet facts about the environment. Trump has done this in part to keep things quiet about the Dakota pipeline  – a development he has business interests in and which will do terrible harm to the environment and wreck First Nation land.

The signs were there.

Freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech was always, it seemed, so important to Trump supporters. When you condemned them for sending racist and sexist abuse to a woman who had the temerity to be funny in an 80s movie remake, they yelled ‘freedom of speech!’ at you. When you pointed out that Breitbart was a cesspit of racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic lies, they yelled ‘freedom of speech!’ at you. When you asked them not to send rape threats to women gamers, or suggested they didn’t scream ‘lock up the bitch’ about HRC, they yelled ‘freedom of speech’ at you. They condemned political correctness as an attack on freedom of speech. They liked Trump for ‘saying the unsayable’ – as if saying racist and sexist lies have ever been ‘edgy’, have ever been anything but the norm.

But to these Trump supporters, freedom of speech only ever meant freedom of speech for one group of people: privileged straight white men.

They saw freedom and liberty as a zero sum game. And when women, people of colour and the LGBT community raised their voices and claimed their right for freedom of speech, they saw it as an attack on their so-called freedom to use language to abuse, intimidate and threaten oppressed communities.

They support Trump because they see anyone else being given freedom of speech as an attack on their freedom of speech. They see other groups using their voices in protest, in solidarity, in honesty, as an attack on them. Now Trump’s policies are sending a clear message: he will repress freedom of speech. Where is their defence of this fundamental right now?

It’s not just journalist arrests and bans on tweeting.

Trump’s reinstatement of the global gag rule denies women the speech to say ‘I need reproductive healthcare’ and denies charities the speech to say ‘we can support you in that.’ It denies freedom of speech to women all over the world, the speech to say their bodies are their own. Ultimately, this ruling will lead to more women dying – silencing them totally.

Trump’s signing of an executive order to ban visas to people from Iran and war-torn countries including Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Iraq denies freedom of speech to people asking for safety, for support, for a home. It denies freedom to those who already have their basic freedoms under attack.

And the Texas Supreme Court’s proposal to roll back on equal marriage rights denies gay people the freedom of speech to say ‘I love you’ and ‘I do’ in public, before friends and family.

All those Trump supporters screaming freedom of speech to yell ‘kill the bitch’ at Hillary. All those Trump supporters screaming freedom of speech at Twitter for banning Milo. Where are their voices now, that freedom of speech is truly under threat?

They’re silent, of course.

They never believed in freedom of speech at all. They only ever wanted to silence the voices of those who for so long had been denied it.
 

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

For BBC Radio Bristol: Why we protest

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

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

But that is the situation I found myself in.

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

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

For Open Democracy: Guapa by Saleem Haddad

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

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

Have a read.