Thursday, 5 December 2013

Mandela on violence against women

As long as we take the view that these are problems for women alone to solve, we cannot expect to reverse the high incidence of rape and child abuse. Domestic violence will not be eradicated. We will not defeat this scourge that affects each and every one of us, until we succeed in mobilising the whole of our society to fight it. 
That is why today`s march, and the gathering here of men, women and children, is so important. 
We do know that many men do not abuse women and children; and that they strive always to live with respect and dignity. But until today the collective voice of these men has never been heard, because the issue has not been regarded as one for the whole nation. 
From today those who inflict violence on others will know they are being isolated and cannot count on other men to protect them. From now on all men will hear the call to assume their responsibility for solving this problem. 
~ Nelson Mandela, National Men's March, 1997

The obituary machine has already whirred into action to mark Mandela's death, and those more informed about his life and work will doubtless have far more insightful things to say than I could come up with. But I came across this quote the other day and wanted to take this opportunity to highlight his righteousness in other, less well-known areas. There's a lot of fronts in fighting the good fight.

Monday, 25 November 2013

LOL Americans! Lazy transatlantic stereotyping

That hackneyed argument that "Only a teeny weeny percentage of US citizens have passports, and THAT's why US foreign policy is so bad!" is such utter bollocks.

1. Passports are expensive.
Up to $165, to be precise.

2. Foreign travel is REALLY expensive.
Unless you happen to live near the Mexican or Canadian border, you're looking at a long-haul flight, another several hundred dollars. Add in accommodation and holiday spends and you're probably looking at around $1k.

3. America is fucking massive.

Texas alone IS BIGGER THAN FRANCE. (Do you like how I managed to get abortion access propaganda in there?) You can travel for several hundred miles without crossing a state line, never mind an international border.

British people sneering at USians, using lazy kneejerk jibes to tell off their transatlantic cousins for being so insular and parochial, seem to imagine that foreign travel - for everyone, no matter where they live in the world - is as easy as booking a £25 Ryanair flight to Budapest or hopping on the Eurostar for a dirty weekend in gay Paris.


4. The stats quoted are usually plain wrong.
I've seen figures ranging from 30% down to 3.5%, but State Department figures show that around 42% of US citizens have passports - not counting the millions of immigrants, the vast majority of whom have passports by definition.

5. Who's making policy?
Sure, popular opinion has an impact on government figures, but that government is overwhelmingly made up of people with high levels of disposable income - those who can afford to go on fancy trips to Europe and the Caribbean and Asia and even the Middle East.

6. What policy? 
Over the last couple of hundred years, there have been two competing impulses in US foreign policy: interventionist and isolationist. Those who want to Make The World Safe For Democracy by punching dictators in the face with intercontinental ballistic missiles, and those who want to encourage the world to become free by being a "city on the hill", a shining example for others to follow. (You can argue about the purity of motives for intervention, and indeed for isolationism, obvs.)

Auto-anti-Americans using the passport argument are almost always complaining about interventionist policies. Surely a nation of people who can't be bothered to get passports or go overseas, who think that the US has everything and more than the rest of the world can offer, would be more inclined to an isolationist standpoint?

And when Americans do get it together to get a passport and make it to London, are we nice and welcoming, congratulating the intrepid travellers on their international spirit? Are we fuck. We bitch and moan about their pronunciation of Leicester Square ("Lye-chester! Hohoho! It's such an obvious intuitive spelling, only a colonial dolt could get it wrong!"), about the fact that they have the dashed temerity to take pictures of themselves outside Harrods, about their unpardonable rudeness in not having been born with a tube map tattood on their brains and thus occasionally having to ask for directions.

Basically, we're quite smug in the notion that Britain/England/London is the best place on earth, and also get really pissed off when people want to visit.


There's this nasty tendency in the British left to snigger across the pond, taking some cold comfort and a sense of superiority from the failures, both real and perceived, of US culture and politics.

"LOL no passports!" Because poor US citizens should be blamed both for the fact that they can't afford a thousand dollar holiday, and for geography itself.

"LOL their healthcare is terrible!" Because it's not like the Tories are privatising the NHS or anything.

"LOL they're fat!" Because... oh god, I can't even go there.

Friday, 22 November 2013

The Helpers of God's Previous Foetuses

A religious group began staging public prayer demonstrations outside an abortion clinic on Friday and will continue to do so until it is shut down.
The Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, which is made up of Catholics from across Hertfordshire, intends to continue praying outside the Danestrete Health Centre in Stevenage until the abortion clinic, operated at the centre by sexual health organisation Marie Stopes International, is no longer in use.
Anti-abortion protestors demonstrate outside Stevenage clinic
 The Helpers of God's Precious Infants.


Sorry, can't quite get over the hilarity of that. Give me a sec.

Okay! I've stopped laughing, for now at least. I've been typing this repeatedly all day, and due to my speedy-but-not-always-accurate typing skillz (honed in Yahoo chatrooms in my foolish, meatspace friend-free youth), I keep typing "The Helpers of God's Previous Infants".

Now I'm laughing again.

I do often wonder why anti-abortion protestors choose that, of all the possible causes in the world, to focus their time, money and energy on. (Like when people donate to fucking donkey sanctuaries. Have I mentioned recently that Britons give more money to donkey sanctuaries than to charities working to end abuse? I feel this bears repeating.) I mean, your money, your time, spend it how you want; you could quite easily tell me it's ridiculous to give my money to ASN and Rape Crisis when there are children starving in Africa, or whatever your pet cause happens to be: I think we've agreed that there is no universally accepted scale of The Worst Thing In The World, and therefore no official ranking on Who Needs Your Money The Most.

But the fact that anti-abortion protestors are all about saving the lives of God's Precious Foetuses while they're in the womb, and yet seem to lose interest the second those infants make their way out of the tunnel of love, does suggest that it's conceivable that their priorities have more to do with misogyny, with sex-negativity, with the desire to control women's bodies and social position, than it is with the saving of God's Precious Foetuses in and of itself.

Because when God's Precious Foetuses stop being Foetuses, and grow up into children and teenagers and adults with needs and problems and voices of their own, the anti-abortion movement - and the wider right wing to which it belongs - has fuck all Help to give them.

When God's Previous Foetuses experience drug addiction, mental health problems, homelessness - the anti-abortion right wing can be found privatising the health service, selling off council houses, pulling funding from addiction clinics and not donating to Mind or Shelter or Action on Addiction.

When God's Previous Foetuses live in the developing world, the anti-abortion right wing will be merrily denying climate change and buying goods made in sweatshops and propping up dictators.

And of course if God's Previous Foetuses grow up female, and fall pregnant and don't want to be, the anti-abortion right wing will be right there: waving placards and letting them know they're going to Hell and proferring empty promises of help if they just promise not to hurt God's Precious Infant. Once that Precious Infant is born, however, they've disappeared again - back at the clinic doors. More Precious Infants to save.

So hey, give your money where you will; do whatever combination of activism and volunteering that you feel does the most good in the world and keeps you more or less sane. But I personally feel my energies are better spent improving the lives of Previous Infants, because they are Precious too.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Bear-faced cheek

Things people do for charity:

1. Get in a bath filled with baked beans.

2. Jump out of a plane.

3. Stop smoking.

 Getting people to sponsor you to do something only works if this thing is gross, scary, or really fucking difficult. I could say, hey, sponsor me to stay in bed all weekend! but people would justifiably point out that staying in bed all weekend is something I would quite happily do on my own steam. (Or would, if I was allowed to smoke indoors. Seriously, my nicotine addiction is the only thing that gets me vertical most days.)

So when Children In Need exhort us to do a sponsored 'not wearing make up', what exactly are they suggesting?

That a woman without make up is gross?


That a woman not wearing make up is scary, or that the idea of not wearing make up is scary to women?


That not wearing make up is really fucking hard?


So on the one hand, because of The Patriarchy and that, many women do find it difficult or scary to present their natural, unadorned faces to the outside world. Because that world will judge them, call them mingers or dykes or lazy (while, of course, calling women who wear "too much" make up sluts and whores and flibbertigibbets).

But in the absence of that analysis, the campaign just suggests that going "bear faced" is, in and of itself, gross, scary, and difficult. Because women in their natural form are gross, amirite guys??

So here's my suggestion for a fundraising campaign: if enough people sponsor me, I will print off a picture of a bear, cut out eyeholes and smoking holes, and staple it to my face for the rest of November.


Sunday, 3 November 2013

I am a leaf on the wind

Content note: suicidal ideation. I know, shocker!

Fun times at Highbury Corner:

1. A crowd of Scousers, each wearing either a Liverpool shirt or a t-shirt exhorting us "Don't buy the S*n", chanting the horn part from Ring of Fire at John Power - him from Cast and The La's - who then lead the crowd in a joyfully endless rendition of The Fields of Anfield Road: possibly the most Liverpudlian thing that has ever happened. Certainly the Liverpudlianist thing that London has ever seen.

2. Caught short outside the Garage, my partner in crime announced that he was going to piss on Highbury Fields in order to show his disdain for rich people. I convinced him to piss instead on the Bowlby Centre to strike a blow against Mr Bowlby's sexist and ethnocentric theory of attachment. He did so. We were proud.

3. One of the yoga teachers at Highbury Leisure Centre likes to end the class with a Structured Visualisation where you imagine yourself as a beautiful golden leaf falling from the top of a mighty oak tree. Being me, I can't seem to help myself imaging myself as an exhausted depresso falling from the top of a multi-storey car park.

"At ten, the wind blows you off the branch," and you take the first step into the sky.

"At nine, you swirl upwards on a gust of wind, and eight, you begin your descent towards the earth below."

"At seven, you look around you, surveying the branches of your tree," and observe the couple fucking on the sixth floor of the car park.

"At five, you are halfway to the ground," approaching terminal velocity.

"At four, you can see every blade of grass beneath you," or in my case, the oily puddle congealing on the asphalt.

"Three, you swoop lower, two, you can almost touch the ground," one, you smash into oblivion as your head meets the pavement.


So, my question for you is: do I point out that this particular visualisation may not be the wisest to a minor subset of his audience? Risk getting Concerned Looks and patronising are you okaaaaaay?s for the rest of my yoga career? Might it save someone else? Would it be self-centred special pleading? Would it prevent everyone else in the class from a very special experience of Surrendering To Gravity? Plz help thanx.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Individual aspirations in a communal space, or, getting thumped on the tube

A woman thumped me on the Northern line this morning.

No, really. She thought I was pushing in line, so she walloped her arm out across my chest to stop me getting on the train, causing actual bruising.

I wasn't pushing in, but even if I was, corporal punishment by rogue vigilante citizens is probably not the best way to deal with such breaches of the social contract.

"People who wear so much perfume that it makes me choke should be shot."
"People who blare music out of those shitty leaky iPod headphones should be shot."
"People who think it's possible to read the Metro while walking briskly in a straight line should be shot twice, once for impeding the flow of foot traffic and once for their choice of reading material."

I have genuinely thought all of these things while taking part in the twice-daily battle that is Getting To Work Via The Underground. I have recently discovered that London has as many inhabitants as Scotland, Northern Ireland, North-East England and North-West England put together, which kind of explains why it's so fucking hard to get a seat on the Northern line. With millions of people sardined into a ridiculously small, old, frequently malfunctioning space, it's not surprising that tempers run high, with the smallest perceived slight provoking a storm of outraged tuts. It's such a Hobbesian, individualistic free-for-all, everyone desperately focused on their own needs to the point where they don't even see other people, except as obstacles; some days I hear the faint sound of hedge fund managers donning black capes and yodeling "KILL THE PIIIIIIIG!".

So I understand the urge to impose some kind of order, to stand up to selfish behaviour. I just don't think thumping people is the way to go about it. Two wrongs, like your mama always said.

I'm now trying to come up with better things to think when faced with such unholy transgressions as Leaving A Twelve Inch Gap Between Yourself And The Person Ahead Of You (WASTING VALUABLE CARRIAGE SPACE) or Overzealous Application Of Charlie Red (my perfume knowledge stops at about 1996, the last year I was able to smell them without choking). Wishing violence on the perpetrators of such heinous crimes leaves a rather bitter taste in one's mouth, especially after a thorough thumping.

"People who wear such perfume that it makes me choke should be sat down and informed that perfume sensitivity is a thing, and asked to adopt a 'less is more' approach."
"People who blare music out of those shitty leaky iPod headphones should be asked whether or not they consider their fellow travellers human beings, and, if so, why they think their right to listen to Celine Dion at maximum volume outweighs the right of thirty other people not to listen to Celine Dion, ever."
"People who think it's possible to read the Metro while walking briskly in a straight line should be requested to attend an army-style boot camp where they must perform rigorous feats of physical endurance, keeping their eyes on the Metro the entire time. Participants will be graded both on their athletic performance and retention of information from the rubbish free newspaper, with a passing grade being contingent upon adequate scores in both arenas."

Don't thump people, kids.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Why does feminism keep fucking up?

After watching The Punk Singer - an amazingly moving and inspiring film about the life and work of Kathleen Hanna - I spent the bus ride home grinning insanely while listening to Bikini Kill and deciding that my bank account could go fuck itself as I needed to read Girls To The Front:: The True Story of the Riot Girl Revolution immediately.

(Interesting historical sidebar: I proposed to Kathleen Hanna once, during a euphoric stage invasion at a Le Tigre gig at the Astoria. I didn't know she was married herself at the time, but I'm just saying, she didn't say no.)

So I read it, and I loved it, and I heartily recommend it. But: it was incredibly sad reading about the movement's general lack of attention to class and race issues, and shoddy ways of dealing with criticism along these lines.

Where have I heard that before?

Oh right, fucking everywhere. Every single time feminism has a notable upsurge, it founders on the rocks of ignoring race and class. (And sexuality and gender identity and disability and sex worker issues and and and, obviously. I'm focusing on the Big Three of gender, race and class - the Axis of Evil, if you will - because they cut across the lives of the vast majority of people on the planet and are the most widely talked about, meaning that we have the theory and data we need, regardless of whether we actually use it.)

Why can't we learn from our mistakes? Why do we repeat the same stupid shit every single time? Why do we insist on using a movement designed to end oppression, to perpetrate oppression on others? Why, in the immortal words of Neil Young, do we keep fucking up?

This is not a rant. This is a genuine question. Do you know why we keep doing this?

Some ideas I've brainstormed:

Intersectionality is so hard, waaaah: A single-issue campaign is relatively easy, intellectually. You have an immediate problem and you work together to find a solution. Organising against sexism is harder (because there are so many more issues to cover, so many more fronts on which to fight) but you can still focus on a common enemy. ("You", in this case, being the archetypal white middle-class feminist.) But add another axis of oppression into the mix - or, god forbid, try to tackle the kyriarchy in its entirety - and you have to consider ways in which you yourself are the oppressor. From the comparatively simple position of "sexism hurts me", you have to notice that the things you do and/or benefit from are hurting other people.

Which is obviously not a reason not to do it. If exercise isn't hurting, in that good, feel-the-burn way, it's also not helping. If social change isn't difficult, it's not really change. No one said the revolution was going to be easy.

But it might be a reason why people are reluctant to do it: after years of being crapped on by the patriarchy, they finally find a space where they can rise up against it, learn to love themselves in a culture which tells them they are nothing. So when they're asked to turn a similar spotlight on themselves, they don't want to lose their happy place.

Money/time/energy/power: The more oppressed you are by a particular system, the more difficult it is to fight it. This is multiplied exponentially when there are multiple systems of oppression crushing your will to live. So the people in leadership positions within feminism (be that professional organisers, public figures, or just the dominating personality of your local discussion group) tend to be those who are white and middle-class. There are dozens of reasons for this - the higher self-esteem that comes with social power; the prejudices of those who chose their leaders, and so on - but an undeniable factor is that whiteness, money, time and energy tend to be concentrated in a very few people. If you're working two jobs to pay the rent and feed your kids, when do you have time to go to a discussion meeting? If you're too exhausted to think after eight hours standing over a production line, are you going to put yourself forward for a position you'll be too knackered to fulfill?

In this way, the "least oppressed" members of a group (I hate putting this in terms of a scale, as if your Level Of Oppression could be given a numerical value on the Universal Scale of Fuckedupitude, but hopefully you know what I'm getting at) gravitate to leadership positions, while women of colour, and poor women, remain in the rank and file - or drift away or burn out completely.

Margins and centre: In From Margin To Center, bell hooks made the brilliantly mind-bending point that people on the margins are, by necessity, informed about the norms of the centre - whereas those in the centre are not required to be similarly informed about the margins. So a Geordie knows she has to code-switch to Received Pronunciation to be taken seriously as a "professional" - but someone with a Home Counties accent has no need to learn Geordie. People with mental health issues know full well how they are supposed to act in a world which expects everyone to be neurotypical - but mentally healthy people on the whole know shit-all about bipolar disorder. Women of colour and poor women know all too much about the needs and aspirations and goals of middle-class white women - but middle-class white women are not so well informed about the world outside their own little leaning-in bubble.

In this way, white middle-class women can build a movement which they assume to address the needs of All Women - but which in fact only addresses the needs of white middle-class women, because they genuinely don't know anything about the needs of poor women and women of colour, because the way society is structured makes it perfectly possible not to know these things.


What now?

So what can we do about it? How can we build a feminism that isn't doomed to repeat the mistakes of our predecessors in marginalising, ignoring, and trampling on the needs of poor women and women of colour? And, while we're at it, of trans women and sex workers and people with disabilities and gay ladies and everyone else in the world?

Again, this is not a rhetorical question. I want to know what you think. I want you to ask everyone you know who calls themselves a feminist, and I want us to put this at the top of our priority lists, because I can't watch us fail again.

Some ideas:

Listen. This is obvious, and has been covered endlessly in the feminist blogosphere, but it bears repeating: we need to listen when someone tells us that we've fucked up; listen to their arguments, to their concerns, to their complaints. Consider what we've done and how we can stop ourselves doing it again. Thank them for it: they're doing us a favour.

Think: It's good to be open to criticism, but it's better not to fuck up in the first place. (The fact that we're undoubtedly going to fuck up is no reason not to try.) When we're setting up discussion groups and talks and charities and pressure groups we need to think about where we're holding our meetings, when we're holding them, who we're inviting, what we're talking about - everything that might make it unappealing, inaccessible, or offensive to people who aren't exactly like us.

Go out of our way: The East Massachusetts Abortion Fund (who, by the way, are probably the most amazing talent show gang you will ever see perform - their interpretation of the Journey classic, Don't Stop Funding, was a phenomenon that will stay with me), when I met them, were halfway through a year of conscious anti-racism: of evaluating their every decision, policy and activity in the light of how it would impact people of colour. How awesome is that? Sure, in an ideal world you'd do that automatically for every marginalised group - but then, in an ideal world you wouldn't have racism to begin with. No, you can't be perfect, but you can try really fucking hard to do what you can.


What else? For real. Tell me. This is not a rhetorical question.

Monday, 14 October 2013

She's good people

Good people are thrifty.
Good people exercise.
 - Should I buy a gym membership?

Good people are thrifty.
Good people eat healthily.
 - Should I buy Pink Lady apples?

Good people are thrifty.
Good people educate themselves about other cultures, oppressions, and that.
 - Should I buy this book on the experiences of disabled women in the Middle East?

Combine conflicting messages about what Good People do, a love of spending money as befits a good little consumer in a capitalist society, poor impulse control which I can now say isn't my fault as it is a symptom of my disorderly borderline personality, and a desire to only do things that my mother would approve of, and you have the perfect recipe for feeling guilty approximately ONE HUNDRED PER CENT OF THE TIME.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Keep rolling, rolling, rolling, rolling, what?

I wonder what exactly is going through someone's head when they're talking about their daughter's new boyfriend, and use the phrase
"He's a good guy. I mean, he'd have to be, to look past the wheelchair, wouldn't he?"
Because using a wheelchair is such a horrible disfigurement that only a Good Man would be willing to date someone in spite of it?

Because a physical disability makes someone so defective that they should settle for whatever they can get?

I can sort of see what he means - that most people have ingrained ableist attitudes and would automatically disbar someone from the privileged position of Datee once they found out Ms Undateable rolls rather than walks, therefore someone who doesn't take this attitude is, perforce, A Good Man.

But congratulating someone for not being ableist is like congratulating someone for not being a murderer. "Good on you! No senseless carnage at all this week! What a prince!" That's, like, the bare minimum standard of decency, not a shining stamp of approval. The fact that so many people fall short of that standard is not a reason to congratulate the exceptions for not being shits to their fellow human beings.

Because these attitudes are really fucking dangerous. People with disabilities are massively more likely to suffer abuse - commonly at the hands of their partners and/or carers. So assuming that the partner is A Good Man simply because he is willing to date a disabled woman - assuming that this woman is "damaged goods" and so should be grateful for attracting any romantic attention at all - is building a cage which will keep her in an abusive relationship.

I don't think the guy in question wants his daughter abused. He's not a monster. I think he just doesn't see the connection between these seemingly harmless attitudes, and the unwitting protection society affords abusers. Abusers seek out easy targets: assumptions like these are what make disabled people vulnerable.

Friday, 27 September 2013

I'm laughing so hard it's killing me

I know I've been writing a lot about my Broken Brain recently, and I'm on the fence as to whether or not this belongs on a blog which I try to keep focused on social justice stuff. Mental health issues are social justice issues, but my own personal breakdown - not so much. That said, I think a personal account of depression/BPD/anxiety can be a powerful tool in breaking down stigma. So on the fence I remain.

But then I got hit by a one-two set of news stories which reinforced exactly why I talk about this as openly as I can: because it matters, because one in four people will have mental health problems in their lifetime, and because so few people will talk about it, and because this stigma is literally deadly.

1. Asda has been selling a "Mental Patient Fancy Dress Costume".

Because we're not real people! We're just horror movie staples!

Because we're so dangerous! We fucking love running after people with meat cleavers! It's not like we're no more likely to commit violent crimes than anyone else, and actually significantly more likely to be the victims of violent crimes! (I know I drag this stat out a lot, but apparently this has not revolutionised social attitudes to mental health yet!)

Because people with mental health problems are Other, surely a teeny tiny minority of the population, so massive supermarket chains don't need to worry about pissing us off!

2. People with mental health problems are significantly more likely to die from preventable illnesses.

There's a lot of reasons behind this, and I don't pretend to know all of them; but I do know that an overwhelming majority of the medical professionals I've dealt with since developing depression have had serious tunnel vision: whatever it is I seek help for, I inevitably end up answering questions on self-harm or suicide attempts or anxiety. Remember Dr Dickface McBullyo? I sought help for a problem with my heart; without doing a single diagnostic test or asking any further questions, he told me I was having a panic attack. Turns out I had supraventricular tachycardia. This isn't actually life-threatening, but these stats suggest a lot of people aren't so lucky.

Of course doctors have to make decisions very quickly and it makes sense to take a person's medical history into account, but this shows, with terrible clarity, that those decisions are being dangerously coloured by social stigma.
The belief that persons with mental illness are dangerous is a significant factor in the development of stigma and discrimination (Corrigan, et al., 2002). The effects of stigma and discrimination are profound. The President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health found that, “Stigma leads others to avoid living, socializing, or working with, renting to, or employing people with mental disorders - especially severe disorders, such as schizophrenia. It leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It deters the public from seeking and wanting to pay for care. Responding to stigma, people with mental health problems internalize public attitudes and become so embarrassed or ashamed that they often conceal symptoms and fail to seek treatment (New Freedom Commission, 2003). (From the Violence and Mental Illness link.)
  Funny-ha-ha mad people Halloween costumes don't seem like so much of a giggle now, huh?

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Undermedicalisation: taking mental health seriously

When I was tentatively diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, the first thing I did was get on a bus to my old house to ask a friend if I could borrow her copy of Girl, Interrupted. (The second thing I did was seriously consider getting my hair cut off again like Winona Ryder in the film. Perhaps "Looks really fit with a pixie cut" should be one of the diagnostic criteria.)

This was after ransacking Wikipedia and WebMD and NHS Choices and any other source of internet information I could get my hands on. I mean, it makes sense: someone tells you that you are something; you want to know what that something is. Movies are probably not the best source of information on any mental health condition, but they have one thing that dry medical websites don't: they can try to tell you how it feels.
Susanna Kaysen: [reading from a book] "Borderline Personality Disorder. An instability of self-image, relationships and moods... uncertainty about goals, impulsive in activities that are self-damaging, such as casual sex."
Lisa Rowe: I like that.
Susanna Kaysen: "Social contrariness and a generally pessimistic attitude and often observed" Well, that's me.
Lisa Rowe: That's everybody.
This was actually a really common reaction when I told people: "So, I have an exciting new diagnosis! I have a Borderline Personality! It means I have no idea who I am or who I want to be, and some other stuff!" "Isn't that just being in your 20s?"

Well, yeah, but let me ask you this, Unsure About Your Future Twentysomething: does it make you want to die? Are you so horrified at the gaping vacuum at the centre of yourself that you frequently find yourself curled into the foetal position on the bathroom floor digging your fingernails into your arms to stop yourself howling with fear? Are you suicidal because the idea of figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life seems like a task you're just not capable of? Does the prospect of getting hospitalised for your insanity sound like a blessed relief?


Then you are probably "just in your 20s".

I think people have this impression that psychiatrists are roaming the streets with nets, cackling madly as they spring upon anyone who displays mildly unusual behaviour and diagnose the crap out of them. "In my day, some kids just had more zip than the others, we didn't call them ADHD and pump them full of drugs." Yeah, and those kids were called troublemakers, underperformed in school, and were denied the chance to deal with their neuroatypicality in a way that suited them.

The idea that we're Overmedicalising Normal Behaviour and Looking For Problems Where There Aren't Any sends people too far the other way, denying the reality of Problems That Are Actually There.

Because these fears are based on genuine issues: yes, the pharmaceutical industry exists to make money, and can best do this by creating medical conditions out of perfectly normal symptoms and patenting drugs to "cure" them. But that doesn't mean illness doesn't exist.

And yes, there are genuine problems with definitions of mental health; BPD is especially contentious because of the disproportionate numbers of women who are diagnosed - hmm, do we possibly think this is because "promiscuity" is only deemed a problem in women?

Reading definitions of mental health conditions, even the healthiest and happiest person can diagnose herself with six different disorders before breakfast. I mean, look at the DSM-IV criteria for Generalised Anxiety Disorder:
A. Excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation), occurring more-days-than-not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities (such as work or school performance).
B. The person finds it difficult to control the worry.
C. The anxiety and worry are associated with three (or more) of the following six symptoms (with at least some symptoms present for more-days-than-not for the past 6 months).
  1. restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
  2. being easily fatigued
  3. difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
  4. irritability
  5. muscle tension
  6. sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless unsatisfying sleep)
If there is an adult human on the planet who does not meet those criteria, I want their secret. The point is that there is an unwritten addendum to all of these definitions: that these symptoms must be resulting in dysfunction; that they are making it difficult for the person to live a "normal" life. It's unwritten because no one goes to a mental health professional unless they're actually suffering. Unless it hurts, it's terrifying, it's too much effort to get outside your front door in the morning.

The mental health system, for all its myriad faults, is not trying to make problems where there aren't any. (The NHS, in particular, hardly has a vested interest in creating extra patients.) It's trying to give names to problems that are already there, and have a bash at making them less awful.


The third thing I did was collapse in horrified tears because I've always known I was fundamentally defective as a human being, and now this assessment had been confirmed by a qualified medical professional.

The fourth thing I did was tell my self-proclaimed GBF. He instantly dubbed me his BPD-BBFFF (Borderline Personality Disorder Bi Best Fucking Friend Forever) and promised to get that on a t-shirt.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Arctic Monkeys vs Kaiser Chiefs on class and chavs

This post would have been so relevant if I'd written it in 2006.

They might wear classic Reeboks
Or knackered Converse
Or tracky bottoms tucked in socks
But all of that's what the point is not
Arctic Monkeys ~ A Certain Romance

So much chav-hated is focused on clothes, isn't it? You say, "Please don't use that word, it's hate-speech against working class people" - or, you know, a slightly less pompous version of same - and they say, "But what about people who really are chavs? Who wear Burberry and caps and tracky bottoms and Croydon facelifts? It's okay to hate them, right?"

The point is there in't no romance around there.

Kaiser Chiefs' I Predict A Riot is in the peculiar situation of being held up as the epitome of the wave of chav-hatred that's been rising in this country for years - at the same time as being an anthem to the very people the song derides.

Girls scrabble round with no clothes on
To borrow a pound for a condom
If it wasn't for chip fat they'd be frozen

"I don't find you sexually attractive, therefore you shouldn't wear revealing clothing" / "I don't want to look at your body, therefore you shouldn't show it in public" / "I don't want to listen to you, therefore you shouldn't exist". (I'm paraphrasing slightly.)

The difference between A Certain Romance and I Predict A Riot is like the difference between you gently taking the piss out of your mum, and your stepmother viciously sniping about your mum. It's the difference between my sister, 15 years ago, railing against the townies who made her life a misery every day at school - and my sister virulently bitching about "chavs" (on benefits, in council houses, in Burberry) who she's never met. Back then they had the power, and she was the underdog; now she has a degree and secure white collar work and the ability to code-switch to Received Pronunciation for job interviews, while the objects of her disdain are struggling to feed their families on ever-dwindling benefits, unable to work because childcare costs are too fucking high and the minimum wage is so fucking low.

I tried to get to my taxi
The man in a tracksuit attacks me

While A Certain Romance laments the cultural wasteland of Sheffield estates - there's only music so that there's new ringtones - it also has the close-up view which shows individuals (don't get me wrong, there's boys in bands), rather than the alarming uniform army conjured up by I Predict A Riot.

Over there there's friends of mine
And they might overstep the line
You just cannot get angry in the same way

That's the difference, isn't it? A Certain Romance is full of exasperation at people who you've grown up with, who you love dearly, but who want different things and go about them in different ways. It's feeling apart from your friends because you're into books and music and get good marks in school, but knowing that those things are prized in the outside world. I Predict A Riot is full of anger: frothing hatred, disgust for a faceless mass of people you don't know and don't want to know.


With thanks to Greg L. Rose for mulling this over with me while we were doing the washing up, and for making me finally listen to Arctic Monkeys seven years later than I should've done. Now that, my friends, is a certain romance.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

There be dragons

Why is it that -

  1. We are taught to fear attack by trans women ("but if we let THEM use OUR bathrooms how can we protect ourselves against being raped by the hypothetical penises we show a creepy amount of interest in??") when a) there is not a single case I am aware of where 'bathroom panic' has been justified, and b) trans people are exponentially more likely than cis people to be the victims of violence, and
  2. We are taught to fear attack by people with mental illnesses, when a) people with mental illnesses are no more likely to commit violent crimes than the rest of the population, and b) people with mental illnesses are significantly more likely to be the victims of violence and abuse, and
  3. We are taught to fear sexual assault from gay people ("don't drop the soap!"), when a) there is no evidence that gay people are more likely to commit sexual assaults than straight or bisexual people, b) gay people are targeted for violent assault because of their sexuality, and c) the vast majority of sexual violence is committed by men, against women.
(An obvious caveat: this is not about individual members of these groups. Trans, mental, and gay (or any combination thereof) people can and do commit horrible crimes, and sometimes their victims are cis, straight people with brains full of sunshine. This is about the net flow of violence between groups, and the popular conceptions of which groups are dangerous.)

I'd love to tell you that this is a calculated program of misinformation, designed by malevolent moustache-twirling policy wonks in the Ministry of Social Injustice (possibly dwelling in the musty basement of Senate House) for the explicit purpose of Fucking Shit Up, but sadly, this is like everything else: it's more complicated than that, and we all contribute to it, every day.

Where the evil happens
I think it's primarily about fear of the unknown. Everyone is scared of things they don't know: that's just how our brains work. But no one wants to think of themselves as being scared of the unknown, because that would make them a bigot: better to fill the threatening blank space with big, hard, concrete REASONS to fear people who are Not Like Us. And if there aren't any, better to make some up.

Because being scared of someone who is 'below' you in the Universal Pecking Order would make you kind of pathetic, right? You're the one with the power, and yet you're quaking in fear.

So to maintain two key beliefs about yourself - that you are not a bigot, and that you are not a coward - it is imperative that you believe that these marginalised populations pose a genuine threat to your safety.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Underwhelming folk devil

If I'm honest, the only reason I came back from sick leave was the fear that the Sun would somehow extend its deadly tendrils into my Facebook page, and run a story about "She says she's too DEPRESSED TO WORK, but she's been CAVORTING in BRIGHTON with GAYS! And FOREIGNERS! And FOREIGN GAYS!!" and I'd become a national hate figure and be cast out from society and have to wander lonely as a cow for the rest of my days.

Though on reflection, they'd only care if I was on benefits. As my brain-wrong is only financially hurting a charity - a charity which is not Help For Heroes - as folk devils go, I'd be a bit of a disappointment.

(This is one of those moments where you want to fall to your knees in gratitude for the unbelievable luxury of sick pay, and not being reliant on private insurance to keep you in meds and food: because otherwise, looking happy on Facebook could literally take the roof from over your head.)

I'm still braindead, unfortunately. Tell me things to be outraged about.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Insert pussy pun here

Ho ho ho, "insert".

I think we could all learn a lot about sex from cats. My own feline beast has been responsibly neutered, so he doesn't see much action, but his attitude to physical affection is an example to us all.

"Hug me! Tickle my head - cheekbone - right under the chin, yeeeah, chin's good, more of the chin. I'm sitting on your lap now. Keep on the chin stuff. No - no more chin, back to the cheekbone. Don't touch my belly, I don't like it. If you keep touching my belly I will slash you with my gigantic panther paws. Okay, good hug, I'm off now, don't follow me."

There's no obligation, no awkwardness, no "that's not actually doing much for me but I'll tolerate it because I've been socialised to think that if I refuse your ministrations you will leave me and I'll deserve it," no "well, if it doesn't actually hurt, I'll grin and bear it and gently try to hint that actually I'd prefer something else".

Sure, in a hopefully equal relationship between humans you can't really go "THIS IS WHAT I WANT OKAY I'M DONE NOW BYE", but having such a clear idea of what you want - and communicating that to your partner - is surely something a lot of women could learn from.

I wouldn't recommend the 'trading affection for food' model, though. That's just creepy.

"You do not appear to be hugging me. Please address this."

Monday, 1 July 2013

Beneficent boners / dead inside

I feel that the fact that I got out of bed at all this morning merits some sort of parade. That I came to work, in clothes I did not sleep in, and have actually achieved things and interacted with real human beings, is clearly grounds for a national holiday. All of which is to say that given that staying in the shower long enough to rinse off the fever sweat was a feat comparable to a marathon, so the idea of shaving my legs - or wearing tights in this heat, still running this temperature - is to be met with the phrase "you're having a fucking giraffe".

So I feel that my response to the gentleman who passed negative comment on my appearance was positively polite, under the circumstances.

"Oh no! Does that mean you don't want to have sex with me? I am crushed, Random Dude I Have Never Met Before; I am CRUSHED at the thought that I have failed in my sole endeavour in this life, which is, of course, for you to want to touch me with your penis. Want me! Need me! How else will I justify my futile time on this earth? BLESS ME WITH THE BENEFICENCE OF YOUR BONER!"

I mean, he was a hundred yards away by the time I'd finished, but I still felt better.


Do forgive the radio silence. Blogging requires an awful lot of feelings, and I am at that very special stage of A Depressive Episode where the most I can muster in the way of feelings is a rolling wave of unfocused 'meh'. I mean, I still want to die, but I don't even give much of a shit about that. Hopefully I'll resurface one day and be able to generate the necessary level of anger of the Daily Mail website sidebar.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Wrong Ex Machina

But what you fail to appreciate, you vapid, vacuous, pollyannaish cunt of a machine, is that I may be entirely accurate in my assessment that I am the worst person who has ever lived! You're assuming that I'm lovely, which is nice and all, but I might not be. You know NOTHING. I have done HORRIBLE THINGS and think HORRIBLE THOUGHTS and it's all a MASSIVE FACADE to hide the fact that I am AWFUL. What if Hitler was taking this test on How Much Your Self-Worth Is Dependent On Other People's Attitudes, huh? He'd score great! That wouldn't have made him any less of a genocidal fuckhead! Because he actually was bad, like I am actually bad, OH GOD I'M WORSE THAN HITLER...
When you're arguing computerised CBT because it refuses to agree that you are the devil incarnate, it's probably time to call it a day.

(Which is not to denigrate CBT! CBT is great, and the only talky therapy to show measurable results in trials (though longer-term therapies are more difficult to study), and I personally found it super-helpful in dealing with anxiety, and if I manage to stop arguing with it I imagine it will be similarly useful in attacking depression. Also you can do it for free at Here endeth today's inspirational message.)

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Mental illness: not Darth Vader

I love this. It's a massive poster in a tunnel at Euston and every time I walk past it during the commute home it makes me grin.

In related deliciously dark humour news, my manager now prefaces even minor criticism with "don't kill yourself, but..."

Not that I'm recommending this as a general policy for Handling Your Local Mental, but it's exactly the way I personally like people to deal with it. I might be losing my ever-tenuous grip on sanity, but you don't have to treat me like a bomb that could explode at any moment. Serious Voice and Sad Face will not fix the Broken Brain. Laughter may not be the best medicine - in my case, 40mg of citalopram per day is the best medicine - but taking the piss out out of mental illness (as distinct from taking the piss out of people with mental illnesses) is a lot less depressing than turning it into some all-powerful godbeast. It's not bloody Darth Vader.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Pretty on the outside: fuck elegance

I don't drink much these days, but when I do, I wake with The Hangover Of All Misery. It's not physical as much as it is emotional: I am utterly crippled by the knowledge of having done something awful. Sometimes there are specifics - public vomiting or bad kissing decisions have featured prominently over the years - but recently it's just a vague sense of having been a bit of a prick. Too loud, too argumentative, too sweary. Not elegant. Uncouth. Unladylike.

Like pretty much every other mid-20s woman who likes cats and hangs out in Stoke Newington, I am a little bit in love with Audrey Hepburn. The style, the poise, the elegance; the capri pants, the pearls, the delicate little cashmere sweaters. That late 50s/early 60s aesthetic is always at the back of my mind when I gaze at my teetering clothes rail, always what I'm aiming for on a charity shop budget.

But it was only last night, when I was bemoaning my lack of confidence in social situations (it is SO HARD TO BE ME) that I realised that elegance as a personality trait is not actually something I should be aspiring to.

Elegance seems best expressed by the oft-quoted Victorian aphorism about the proper place of children: seen but not heard. Elegant, and its sister ladylike, are about looking fabulous and shutting the fuck up. Which is exhausting.

The 90s moral panic about "ladettes" - god forbid we drink pints and have fun! - has, I think, infected my thinking on this. It's a deeply class-based prejudice, this - I don't actually know anything a bout the family backgrounds of Zoe Ball, Sara Cox, Denise Van Outen et al, but the Daily Mail's objection to them was "they're acting like our nightmare vision of working class women!" as much as it was "they're acting like MEN!".

What I'm worried about when I wake up wracked with shame is that I have acted like a Ladette, desperately needy to identify as One Of The Boys.

So what's the alternative? Smile sweetly and express the occasional opinion in a gentle, womanly tone, too demure to be heard over the Saturday night hubbub? I like getting into ridiculous arguments about sexism over several pints, setting the world to rights as we queue at the bar. I like using my chic little dress, with its teapot-print bodice, to mop up the lager I spilt gesticulating too enthusiastically. I like the contrast between ladylike dress and entirely unladylike behaviour, sitting cross-legged in a foofy 50s picnic frock while punctuating my points by stabbing the air with a cigarette.

It's all very well pointing out that subscribing to the aesthetics and hobbies of the 50s doesn't necessitate embracing their mores, but if I'm still aspiring to elegance, I've got a long way to go.

Hanging out with a gang of feminist types yesterday, I was struck by the brilliance with which the birthday girl synthesised the perceived incongruity of hairy armpits and elegant, feminine frock into something sublime. (Also: spending a hot sunny day with people who couldn't give the flimsiest fragment of a shit that you haven't shaved in a week is so restful.)

And with that, I am - no word of a lie - off to the pub.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Suicide lolz

Can one conjugate 'parasuicide' into 'parasuicidal'? Asking for a friend.

The thing about suicide is that once you've tried once, you can't unknow what you have learned. You couldn't manage x, y didn't work, but z... Your body is permanently changed, and so is your mind. Immediately after, it's common to feel a surge of elation: you survived an attempt on your life! Personally, though, I just felt flat, ground down by the awareness of one more thing I'd failed at; that the acute crisis had passed and not taken me with it. That I might never get up the gumption again and would have to go on feeling this nothing forever.

That and feeling this way is just fucking embarrassing. It's acceptable at 16, even expected; but aren't we all supposed to be over that silly little phase now? What, are you listening to the Manics as well?

(Then again, the nice thing about going nuts at 26, as opposed to 16, is that when you tell your friends they respond with, "Oh no! Can I help? Do you want company/Japanese pancakes/a warm shoulder to lean on/booze/me to thoroughly take the piss out of you?" (Yes to all of the above.) They do not say, "Wow. That's so deep." With age we've finally figured out that mental illness isn't cool and creative and proof that we're such tortured artists, man, it's just sad and difficult and endlessly, grindingly boring. If I hadn't wasted so much time a) being brain-wrong and b) shaving my legs I'd probably be Prime Minister by now.)

I have an entirely psychosomatic ache in my left wrist, a pang that shoots up my arm at times like this. All you can see is a shimmering white one inch scar, a grim memento from a grubby and painful and thankfully interrupted evening back in my teenage bedroom all those years ago. I'd thought the knowledge I'd dug into my arm had faded too, but it was just hibernating.

Suicidal people are information-gannets. Every conversation, landscape, shop window display is mined for tips and hints on how best to go about the deadly deed. Every news article, as well. Research shows that a report on a suicide which goes into detail about the methods used will be followed by a surge in the number of people killing themselves the same way. No, it didn't make them do it - it just showed them how.

(It's fine. I mean, it's not fine, but it's not an emergency. I didn't even attempt the dreaded deed, I'm covered in cake and company and going back to the GP to jump on the meds-tinkering talky-therapy train; management strategies are firmly in place and I am not in need of an intervention. Stand down the guard.)

"Cake or death?"
"Cake, Hannah, CAKE! Give me the butter knife!"
Suicidal lolz.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

"She forgot to take her medication today!"

I feel like absolute snakepit crap today. All I am capable of is a) gazing at the computer screen, trying to distract myself with pictures of kittens, b) staring blankly at my book, completely failing to take in a word, and c) shovel carbohydrates into my mouth in an attempt to suffocate my amorphous sorrows in a big bready avalanche, while d) trying desperately not to cry.

Which is partly because I haven't had any time to myself for the last four days. Which is partly because I have got drunk every night for the last three days. (I don't really drink usually, so the resulting hangovers are multiplying with each other like little evil bunnies.) Which is partly because, with this disruption of my routine, I have forgotten to take my medication for the last three days.

"She forgot to take her medication today!" is one of those marginally irritating stock phrases that people use without thinking it through. It's used as a lazy joke for any mistake or failing or mildly eccentric behaviour, and honestly? Most days I wouldn't even give a shit. I might register a vague flash of annoyance and observe that the speaker really needs some new material.

Today, though: ha.

"She forgot to take her medication today!" And she feels like she is literally dying. The effort involved in smiling and saying good morning at the same time nearly broke her.

There's a load of other stuff to unpack - the idea that people with mental health issues have a duty to take their meds, that said issues can only be fixed with meds, that people with said issues do such wacky things, lolz! - but the fact that I haven't taken my medication today leaves me entirely incapable of any further rational thought.

This is a problem that can only be solved by several hours in bed, watching David Tennant Doctor Who, with a duvet on my head. And taking my medication every day. As you were.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Living the dream

So I bought The Most Ethical Bag On The Planet.


It is made of organic, recycled, fair trade jute.

It was crafted by women who had formerly been trafficked for sex work, employed by a company which offers these women decently-paid work and support to rebuild their lives.

It probably gives the world's oppressed and downtrodden a foot rub.

On the day of its delivery, I unwrapped it with glee; I admired its construction and aesthetics; I gloried in the fact that it is big enough to fit a book, my lunch, and a medium-sized knitting project, without being heavy enough to trigger my recurrent back problems. I luxuriated in the unimaginable smugness that comes from buying The Most Ethical Bag On The Planet.

But when I opened it up, my heart sank: there is no pocket for keys, fags and lipbalm; worse, no pocket for one's essential-in-this-modern-age suckable-digital-thumb, the smart phone.

At which point I was sent a link to 27 Middle Class Problems.


Yep. I am living the stereotype dream. I'm off to weave my own free-range yoghurt.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Yes, another Twilight post: Billy Black's wheels

So I know there are about a million ways in which the Twilight series is the very definition of Problematic. The romanticisation of abusive relationships; the message that having sex with dudes will kill you really dead; the abstinence-only not-before-marriageness of it all; the racist orientalism of having the Native Americans be fucking werewolves; the sly dig at the theory of evolution snuck into the first book... countless words could have, and indeed have, been written decrying its deeply conservative worldview and the gross messages it sends to its intended audience of teenage girls. And the fact that the vampires are just plain rubbish - ooh, they're vampires, but without the sunlight issues, evilness, coffiny cryptyness, or all the stuff that makes vampires COOL.

I mean: "If I hadn't seen him undressed, I would have sworn there was nothing more beautiful than Edward in his khakis." KHAKIS? The vampire wears motherfucking KHAKIS? And we are expected to accept Bella's appraisal of him as the coolest sexiest cleverest kindest bestest most having of the longest boy eyelashes everest and also a concert pianistest never fucked anyone in 100 years because he was just waiting around for Bella manic pixie dream blah EVER? In his KHAKIS?



Look, I swear this isn't coloured by the fact that I have a weird fascination with the books (I like trashy novels! Sometimes I am too tired to handle Serious Literature! I have also just finished reading a 400 page treatise on the differentiated origins of food production, animal domestication and technological development around the world! And am getting weirdly defensive about this!), or not entirely, anyway.

I just wanted to take a moment to celebrate the character of Billy Black. He's Love Interest II's dad. Tribal elder. Pal of Bella's dad. Uses a wheelchair. Knows about the werewolves.

I really like the fact that his mode of transport is just... not an issue. It's mentioned in the same way that other characters' walking is: it's just how he gets around. (Plus, with the super-sexy super-elegant super-suave super-speedy super-human vampiric perambulations going on, Billy's wheels are just not the most interesting moves in town.) There's the odd reference to the limitations this places on his freedom of movement - he can't get into the garage, for example - and it's casually referred to in the family in the same way you'd take the piss out of your sister's rubbish car, or celebrate your mum getting her old person's bus pass.

We're never told why Billy uses a wheelchair - whether he was born not being able to walk, or lost the use of his legs from illness or accident - and it's not portrayed as the defining aspect of his personality. He's a minor player who doesn't get a lot of airtime, which could have easily led to his being a one-note character: the local crip. But he wasn't.

AND, I have just confirmed my suspicion that he totally was in Buffy season 2! Ten points and a high five to the first person to correctly identify episode and character without resorting to Wikipedia.

Monday, 22 April 2013

I wasn't talking to you

Manpanion: "What is 'mansplaining'?
Me: "Well. Remember when we first started going out, and you kept saying that the noun 'patriarchy' shouldn't be used with the definite article? That was a prime example of mansplaining. That was basically the platonic ideal of mansplaining, to which all other mansplanations were but shadows on the mansplainy cave wall."
Manpanion: "'Mansplaining' is a really stupid word."
Me: "..."
Manpanion: "'Man' doesn't sound anything like 'ex'."
Me: "..."
Manpanion: "You're going to blog about this, aren't you?"


The Manpanion's other beef with the word Patriarchy is that no one knows what it means. So, I suppose, people will read a feminist blog post, nod along, agree with some bits, question others, and then run up against a brick wall: The Word That They Do Not Know. At which point they could either:

1. Highlight it, right click, select "search google for 'patriarchy'", read the definition and maybe a 101 blog post, move on.
2. Get up, go over to the bookshelf, pick up Ye Olde Paper Dictionary, flip to P.
3. Run away screaming, convinced that feminism is IMPENETRABLE.

For reasons lost to the mists of time, I start all conversations with my mum in German. Really bad German, on my side, given that I speak about twelve words of the language, so it generally goes something like: "Mutti! Ich habe sehr lecke, um, pies gemacht! Sehr klein, und so süß! (Wie sagt man 'pie'?)" *

Similarly, conversations with Straight Best Friend tend to begin with a selection from my three Chinese phrases "Wei, ni hao? You mei you xiong mao ma? Wo DA bu hao. Ke lian de Han. Um, what's Mandarin for 'fucking massive hangover'?" **) before reverting back to one of our common languages - English, or Scouse.

* Mummy! I've made very tasty pies! Very small, and so sweet! How do you say 'pie'?
** Hi, how are you? Do you have any pandas? I'm SO not good. Poor Han.

Manpanion has yet to complain that he is being excluded by my cack-handed linguistic forays, because it's understood that a phone conversation is between two people, and only has to be intelligible to those two.

I think it needs to be understood that a lot of posts in the social justice blogosphere are like that: part of a broader conversation between members of a community, which don't necessarily have to be accessible to the rest of the world.

Specialist language, like Patriarchy and Intersectionality and Rape Culture, is not there to shut non-initiates out: it's just to save our own time. Yeah, I could say "a culture of systemic and long-standing oppression of women", but it saves time and typing fingers and word count if I just use the word Patriarchy. My intended audience knows what I'm talking about: why waste their time, too?

You don't eavesdrop on a French conversation class and complain that you've no idea what they're banging on about. You don't read a knitting blog and demand that, if they're going to say stuff like "I frogged my intarsia WIP and am heading over to my LYS to stock up on DPNs and feed my stash", they define each of those terms every time they appear.

So why are feminists and anti-racists and LGBT activists and co expected to conduct our every conversation at entry-level?

Sure, we want to appeal to a wider audience; I don't really think that the world's going to get fixed by a couple of hundred people debating the ideological implications of Vajazzling. But spreading the word is only one prong of the social justice blogging thing. We're also doing it to keep our spirits up, to work through new ideas, to move theory along, and to be able to do that, it has to be taken as read that participants in the conversation have a firm grasp on the basics.

The accusation is frequently thrown that this creates an echo chamber of agreement, a lovely great circle jerk where we all sit around congratulating each other on being so very right on. Which is bollocks. We disagree all the time, on almost every issue; feminism is far from being a monolith and hammering out new ideas can't be done without disagreements. It's just that we don't have to waste our time and energy demonstrating, for the fiftieth fucking time, that sexism actually exists.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Insulting people without prejudice


Is what a charming Porsche-driving gentleman yelled at me after he nearly ran me over at a bus stop. Which led to quite the conundrum: how to quickly and thoroughly eviscerate him, informing him that I had nothing but disdain for his rudeness, his rudimentary spatial awareness and his lack of willingness to share the planet with anyone other than himself, while making it clear that this was an entirely personal insult, making no reference to the popular stereotype which bizarrely claims that people who share his East Asian heritage are bad drivers? (I think this particular association between ethnicity and wheelmanship is predominantly held in the States, but we're living in a global village, apparently, and racism is nothing like a fine wine: it travels well.)

I went with "GET FUCKED, DICKWAD."

Still, it was nice to have one prejudice thoroughly confirmed: Porsche-drivers are total wankers.

Monday, 8 April 2013

We will laugh the day that Thatcher dies, even though we know it's not right

"Just think, when you wake up tomorrow, Thatcher could be dead!"

Is what I said to cheer up a gloomy housemate, on the tube some time in 2005. Loudly. On the Victoria line. We got looks.



"Wow, all those people who looked down on Americans for celebrating Bin Laden's death have really lost the moral high ground." In our defence, at least we didn't actually kill Thatcher.


Without straining credulity too much, I can make a fairly compelling case for the idea that Margaret Thatcher ruined my life. The polarised political climate put a massive strain on my parents' marriage, along with my dad's redundancy (bad time to work in newspapers!) and the widespread economic uncertainty. (I'm told there was an Economic Miracle in the 80s. No one I know remembers this.)

Meanwhile, the breaking of the print unions, and the rise of the BNP - given respectability by Thatcher's racist pronouncements - both tipped my dad over the edge into mental breakdown, putting the final kibosh on their relationship. (So, brilliantly, I ended up being raised by a single mother... because of Margaret Thatcher. Nice work.)

Then there's the National Curriculum, the obsession with school league tables, the idea that kids are just there to get results to make their schools look good, which tipped me over the edge of sanity a decade or so after my dad went down his own personal rabbit hole.

Obviously, I can't say "Thatcher made me crazy", "Thatcher sent my dad mad" or "Thatcher split my parents up". It's not that simple. But she had a genuine role in all three of those things. Yeah, I was four when she left office, but you know the line about old sins and long shadows, right? Politics matters, and political decisions have ramifications which don't end when the shot-callers leave office.


After Pinochet seized power in Chile in 1973, refugees flooded out of the country seeking asylum. A sizeable number of them ended up in Southampton. Some of these people drank in the same pubs as my parents. Hearing an immensely dignified Allende supporter, living in exile, explain to me over a pint of bitter exactly how it felt to watch Pinochet be warmly welcomed by the former Prime Minister - after facing precisely no punishment for presiding over the death or disappearance of over three thousand people - was one of those moments when you start to grasp how the world fits together, and how the world sees this green and pleasant land.

A lot of Irish people drank in those pubs, too. I was doing harmonies on songs about the hunger strikers before I'd even heard the national anthem.


I'm pretty sure that the level of vitriol reserved especially for Thatcher owes a lot to misogyny. Yes, her policies were horrific, her pronouncements sickening, her ongoing effect on this country devastating - but I don't believe that she would have remained such a virulently despised figure (by my parish - obviously not by the entire country) had she been male. It's a tricky theory to test, though, as there genuinely isn't a male politician who's been quite so bad.

Then again, I believe it was Thatcher herself who said that "I owe nothing to women's lib. The feminists hate me, don't they? And I don't blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison." So I'm not inclined to waste my energy telling people to hate her in the right way.


We will laugh the day that Thatcher dies, even though we know it's not right


I'm not saying it's right to celebrate someone's death - though I'm sure as hell not going to mourn. I'm just trying to explain, to anyone who is finding it distasteful, why it is that we can't help it.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Racism of the day

I emailed our external IT support team to ask them to create a new log-in for an intern. The next day, I got a call:

"I think there's a typo in the request you sent - you said her last name was To? As in too?"

Uh, no, that's her real name.

"Oh! Er, right! I just thought I'd check because it's, uh, not a normal name!"

Well, no, it's not Smith, but...


Reasons why I live in London No 39902384.

Monday, 25 March 2013

No baby on board

Ha! Fooled you! This post has absolutely no relation to my menstrual cycle, for what seems like the first time in years.


Would it be 100% immoral to lie to Transport For London in order to get my hands on a Baby on Board badge?

It's not that I have any great desire to fool people into thinking I'm pregnant. It's just that
"I'm really, really tired, you guys. So tired my hand is shaking as I grip the slippery pole, my knees are knocking, I can feel my legs actually buckling in the middle and sinking towards the floor. No one really knows what's wrong with me, so we're currently going with 'probably Chronic Fatigue Syndrome'; the heart condition thing seems to be sorted out but I do still occasionally faint while standing up for long periods in overheated conditions - hey! Like this one! - and I really don't want to pass out on your knee. That would just be weird when I come round and my nose is in your crotch and you're keeping your eyes determinedly on your Evening Standard. (True story!) So be a pal and GIMME YOUR MOTHERFUCKING SEAT, OKAY?"
...would require a really big badge.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Snooty Myth: who gets to talk about sex work?

It's amazing how quickly your mind can be changed. How you can go from harbouring the grossest, most deeply-bedded prejudices to suddenly finding those prejudices ridiculous.

So I've just finished Prostitutes: Our Life, edited by Claude Jaget. It tells the story of the Lyons sex worker community, which, in 1975, went on strike. In response to a rash of murders of prostitutes in that city - and police indifference to these crimes - a group of sex workers occupied a church, hanging a banner outside reading "Our children don't want their mothers in jail". (An aside: gotta love the French.) The movement spread, with churches being taken over across the country, until they were forced out and arrested; it was a massively significant moment in terms of bringing the needs and experiences of sex workers to the attention of mainstream society, and forging links between sex workers and the wider feminist- and labour-movements.

After relating these events, the book gives six of the women involved in the occupation free rein to talk about their lives. How they got into prostitution, how they feel about it, how it affects their relationships with romantic partners, with children, with other women... The stories vary wildly, giving a wonderfully detailed picture of how six specific women experience working in the sex industry. Noting the similarities between their depositions is particularly illuminating: police harassment and brutality is a common thread running through the book, and the call for decriminalisation (as opposed to legalisation in state brothels) never wavers.

I fucking love books like this: fiercely political, but a politics born of direct experience; a group of people determined to fix the problems in their own lives within the wider context of oppression.

Flipping from this to the sex work chapter in Kat Banyard's The Equality Illusion was, ah, illuminating.
What if the industry's credentials were fake - and its apparent embodiment of liberation just a carefully crafted illusion? What if 68 per cent of the women in prostitution have post-traumatic stress disorder as a direct result of the work they do? What if 88 per cent of the pornographic scenes men were masturbating to contained physically aggressive acts - nearly all directed at women - such as slapping, gagging, and choking, and if it had reliably been shown that consuming such images led to an increase in sexually aggressive attitudes and behaviours? What if the sex industry didn't represent sexual liberation at all but, instead, one of the most profound challenges to women's status as equal citizens in the world today?
What if you could have offered one single footnote to back up any of those claims?

Well, I tell a lie - the 68% PTSD claim has a footnote. Which links to Melissa Farley's infamous "Bad for the body, bad for the heart" study. Hey, I wonder what actual sex workers have to say about this research?
"It’s common knowledge ’round these parts, and in every sex worker activist circle I’ve ever bumped up against, that the work Melissa Farley does is misleading, ill-intentioned, and downright vile in the way it determinedly misrepresents the whole truth. She’s a self professed “abolitionist,” meaning she wants sex work (and by necessary extension, sex workers) to be eradicated, and everything she’s ever done in this arena has been deliberately intended to further her point of view." Tits and Sass
The whole chapter goes on like this: scantily-referenced, reliant on dodgy research, coming from the unstated assumption that Sex Work Is Bad For Women without explaining exactly why this is. More than anything else, it's just boring: why do I care what Banyard's opinions on sex work are? Given her complete lack of experience in the field, wouldn't it make more sense to ask some current sex workers for their feelings on the matter? (Something that Banyard herself doesn't manage: the only people quoted in the chapter are former sex workers whose experiences in the industry were extremely negative.) Why not read Tits and Sass, or A Glasgow Sex Worker, or the book mentioned above, or literally anything which is informed by actual lived experience and not distorted by preconceived prejudices?

In fact, I enjoyed Prostitutes: Our Life so much that if you want it (and you trust me not to stalk you, which I won't! but I am a stranger on the internet so you're allowed to worry), I'll post it right to your door. First come, first served. You're also welcome to The Equality Illusion, if you want a laugh.

Non-social-justice interlude: sock talk

I made a sock!

I mean: it is far from being the perfect sock. The yarn is scratchy, and I don't like multicoloured yarn, and I'm pretty sure my feet don't end in a central point, and I unravelled the whole thing immediately after taking this picture - but I am still more pleased with this little beast than with anything else I've ever knitted.

It's just such a miracle! For pretty much everything else, you knit rectangles, or tubes, and stick them together to more-or-less successfully cover your body. But socks! You start with a tube, you go off in a different direction, you pick up stitches, you start a new tube in a different direction... and, magically, you end up with something that is the actual shape of a foot!

Truly, a triumph of ancient engineering.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Your daily abortion round-up

Hey kids, it's abortion time! Well, not kids, because obviously we hate kids, hence the focus on not having kids. That's definitely how it works.

However! In the Good News pile, we have the fact that Stormont has voted against outlawing non-NHS abortion in Northern Ireland. Thrilling as it is that they've chosen not to add EVEN MORE restrictions, this doesn't change the fact that the existing restrictions make it basically impossible to access abortion in NI no matter what her reasons are. So that's a shame. Sign this petition, it'll make you feel better.

In yesterday's Times supplement, we have a wonderfully brave and honest piece by Emma Beddington in which she tells the story of her abortion; she chose to end a pregnancy because she already had two young children and didn't feel able to cope with a third. This is the most common face of abortion - not the Catastrophic Foetal Anomalies story or the Feckless Teenager Using Abortion As Contraception.

(I know I've mentioned this before, but for fuck's sake, virtually every method of contraception short of getting your tubes tied is less hassle than having an abortion. In fact, the only people "using abortion as contraception" are likely to be those whose partners won't let them use contraception, and I don't think telling them off is going to fix much, do you? And finally: contraception prevents conception. Abortion, by definition, is only possible after conception has already occurred. If you're going to talk bollocks, please talk it in actual fucking English.)

The story notes that 16% of women who have abortions in the UK are married; 51% already had children. My favourite page of the ASN 2012 Annual Report shows that at least a third of the women we've heard from are already mothers:

So sharing this kind of story, rather than saturating media coverage with the more extreme cases, is really valuable.

What's less valuable is the companion piece, which focuses entirely on women whose partners bullied them into terminating a pregnancy, as if this is remotely representative. "Enter the subject into Google and a miasma of marital pain floods the screen," writes Carol Midgley, before noting that many of the quotes she uses are pulled from CareConfidential - "a Christian pregnancy and abortion counselling service". So a totally unbiased source, then!

Being bullied or cajoled or beaten into terminating a pregnancy would be unimaginably traumatic. But the issue there isn't abortion: it's abuse.

It's not that some people don't regret having an abortion; the problem is that almost every woman whose abortion story is told in the media falls into that category. It reinforces the idea that abortion is a terrible, traumatic, sinful thing, which fucks you up for ever. Abortion just is. (And was, and always will be.) For some people, it's horrible; for others, it's a blessing. For some, not being pregnant any more is wonderful - but the shame and stigma surrounding it makes it much more painful than it needs to be. While Midgley chooses to end her article with the quote "We ended the life of our child, a product of our love which is being tested now," it is important to keep alternative experiences in mind. Like that of Emma Beddington, who notes that
"My main emotion when I think of my abortion - and I rarely do - is gratitude."

 Oh yeah, and then there's Richard Dawkins and his theoretical pig, but I just... I can't.