Why I just can’t get on board with the whole Robin Thicke thing (and why it’s ok to admit it)

It really has me fighting with myself.  It’s a really catchy tune, and I reckon that I will probably one day succumb to it in a drunken karaoke disaster, but when I think about it for longer than about a second, I realise that I actually find it quite deplorable.  I am of course talking about one of last year’s big summer anthems: ‘Blurred Lines’.

Pushing aside the fact (momentarily) that the lyrics read like the key defence speech in a date-rape trail; have you seen the video?  Now, up until recently, I thought that everyone on the planet had seen THAT video.  A couple of male friends in a recent discussion admitted that they never had.  On greater consideration, I suspect that it probably is not very widely broadcast on TV, and seeing as it was initially removed from YouTube due to its explicit content; you probably have to really go looking for it.  To me, this makes it one of the most quietly controversial videos I’ve ever seen.

Now, I’m not a prude and I’m not easily shocked or embarrassed, but come on!  Although, that could transpire to be quite an unfortunate turn of phrase.  I know that music videos are steadily becoming more and more obvious in their objectification of women (hell, even the girls are at it, but I’ll come back to Miley and Rihanna another time) but surely this video has redefined the common understanding of the word ‘gratuitous’.  A trio of semi-naked models prance around making thinly-veiled fetish references (in terrible shoes might I add!  That really offends me!)  and fawn over Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and TI.  Oh, and they also felt the need to have the message ‘Robin Thicke has a big dick’ written in balloons.   I’m not sure why balloons, but that really is doleful.  It’s the celebrity equivalent of writing that you’re a great shag on the toilet walls.  But to a far greater audience.  When everyone knows it was you.  That’s pretty tragic isn’t it?

I’m not sure why it seems so blatant, perhaps it’s a potent combination of the tits; barely there pants; the choreographed strut of the models; sexually-charged looks or just the gloating, pervy presence of Mr Thicke himself, leering away in the middle of all this smut like a teenage deviant who has just discovered that his dog will lick anything covered in peanut butter.  The women in it are absolutely nothing more that sexual objects, there to be chased, grabbed and owned by the men.  Every time I see it I want to scream at the regressive stupidity and complete misguided-ness of the whole thing!

That’s what it is.  Stupid.  And terrible, terrible judgement on someone, or some committee’s part.  I understand why they did it, it’s a talking point, and if people are talking about your video, that’s publicising it, and you know what they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.  I wonder if Robin Thicke agrees with this old adage now?  He has met with a lot of public disapproval over this.  In fact, some universities even banned the playing of the song at fresher’s week events in a bid to combat sexist attitudes prevalent at them in recent years.  He has apparently had to defend the song by saying it was written about his wife (er, Robin, you do know that it’s not even ok to say stuff like this about your wife-the woman you love- don’t you?) but that doesn’t really make it any more palatable.

As much as Robin Thicke is the face of it all, he is not solely responsible.  If it wasn’t for some record company executive blinded by the dollar signs in his eyes, this song may never have seen the light of day.  Another equally erroneous record company employee saw fit to green-light the ridiculous video concept.  And it is ridiculous.  If you don’t believe me, check out the brilliant Mod Carousel parody video in which the gender roles are reversed.  You’ll laugh your ass off, and hopefully then see how ludicrous it is to think it’s ok for women to be depicted in that way.  If I didn’t find the whole thing so damn repellent, I might actually feel a bit sorry for the fact that Robin Thicke has to face the (justified) criticism on his own.  Almost.  If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m pretty sure that he didn’t put up too much of a fight at the video concept brain-storm session.

Just as ill-advised as the video concept are the lyrics.  In essence the song appears to be telling a woman that she must want sex, with the (who could resist?) lines: ‘I know you want it’ and that there are ‘blurred lines’.  I mean really, Robin Thicke?  You actually thought that it would be acceptable to address the female object of your ditty with the line ‘tried to domesticate you, but you’re an animal, baby it’s in your nature’ Really? If it wasn’t so bloody insulting it would be laughable.  Regardless of which man they were referring to doing the domesticating, surely the word ‘domesticated’ is not one you want to use when addressing  a lady?  Not unless you’re trying to provoke the feminists.  It’s naïve to think that line alone wouldn’t prompt criticism.  It then steps up from insulting to boak-inducing in TI’s rap.  ‘I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two’ is a particular highlight, after all, isn’t that what all women want, a man with such as freakishly large penis that it will mutilate her?  Anyone else think these guys are protesting too much with all the cock references?  Plus, I really can’t stand it when women are referred to as ‘bitches’.   This song does it twice.  If you still think this is an acceptable for of urban street expression I think you might need to take some sort of court-ordered class.  It astounds me how three very successful male artists can’t see that this makes them look and sound, well, creepy.

Thicke has tried to imply that the song actually has a feminist message, referring to the line ‘that man is not your maker’.  It is sad that he fails to realise that the rest of the lyrics undermine this.  Ok, that man isn’t the boss of you, but this man wants to be and certainly doesn’t seem to be able to determine what sort of behaviour is and isn’t acceptable due to all these pesky blurred lines.

I worry that impressionable young men will look up to these guys in their suave suits, “edgy” fashion and indoor aviators.  That they too will want to have a troupe of women dancing around them in the nuddy at all times.  Worst of all, they’ll think that that it is ok to speak to women in this way and to think of them as ownable because that’s what they see the cool guys in the video doing.  Hell, those guys even have balloon adverts about how big their bits are!  I also worry that impressionable young women will see it and think that that’s what boys want from girls.  Trust me, no-one ever got to the top of their game by getting them out in a music video.  Lust is not the same as respect.

All joking aside, the really, really worrying thing is that this is just another arm of a rather frightening monster of our time.  It’s part of an anti-female agenda that surreptitiously tries to undermine sexual equality.  It’s part of the same manifesto that vilifies women for daring to object to jokes about rape.  Branding them as humourless and hiding behind the pathetic excuse that ‘it’s just a joke.’  So these same people claim that this is just a bit of fun, that no-one’s forcing these models to take part in the video, and in fact, they are expressing female sexuality.  However, if you can’t see the glaring problem with three fully-clothed male pop stars being cavorted around by three much less-clothed, unknown women, then you have bigger problems than this.

Now, ‘Blurred Lines’ is a really popular song, and Robin Thicke is a popular artist, so I fully expect to receive some trolling as a result of this.  Perhaps I deserve it, after all, I’m writing some pretty snidey stuff about another human being.  Maybe I should not have made personal comments such as smug, pervy and creepy.  However, the video is definitely pervy, and I’m sure that a significant number of people, male and female find it creepy.  The worst bit is that they are all so smug about it, as if behaving like this is something to be proud of.  I am allowed to have an opinion though.  This song is the first I’ve ever heard of Robin Thicke, and as such I will be actively avoiding his music from now on such is the impact it had on me.  Like it or not, Thicke has chosen to go along with using this music video to promote his song and as such, must be prepared to accept the criticism which will of course reflect on him; it’s his voice he’s selling after all.  I’m sure I’ll be called a humourless bitch; a repressed prude, whatever!  I think that hearing that is far less painful than the fighting going on in my brain when I try to justify this as just part of the pop machine, that everyone does it, and it’s a catchy tune, so that somehow makes it ok.  If we all did that, how far would it go?  What would they do next to shock and create controversy and media interest?  I certainly want it to be nipped in the bud before I have to look at Robin Thicke naked on the screen and those balloons getting really crass!

If you liked this blog then I think you’ll like this article I found after completing the first draft.  It’s far more clever and funny than I am!

Is having it all all it’s cracked up to be?

If I were the sort to think of my blog as my ‘baby’ (and it’s probably a good thing I don’t) then someone should really have called the digital social services a long time ago.  The fact that I have neglected it for so long is, however, the perfect illustration for the subject of this, my come-back post: are modern women trying to do too much?

I got a bit of a wake-up called last winter.  I arranged an appointment with the doctor after feeling ill for a while.  The symptoms were a bit of a mish-mash: headaches, achey bones, lack of concentration, irritability and a constant, crushing fatigue which meant I was lucky if I made it to 5pm every day without having to take a nap.  I couldn’t put my finger on any one thing, but I knew something wasn’t right.  As my brother had recently been diagnosed with glandular fever I felt sure that that must be it; after all, it is highly contagious.  Although it is quite an unusual illness, it didn’t seem like that big a leap to suspect that that might be the root of my problems.

At my appointment, to my surprise, the doctor seemed sceptical.  It was when asking me to describe a typical day prompted me to burst into tears he came to the conclusion that rather than contracting glandular fever, I was most likely suffering from anxiety.  That in itself was a shock to me.  I didn’t feel anxious.  I felt ill; in physical pain.  I expected that if I was suffering from anxiety, I’d know about it.  I’d feel stressed, unable to cope, panicky.  Sure I was busy, I had a lot on and was feeling increasingly resentful towards things which I usually enjoyed, but that surely was just how things are for someone who has a challenging job, a social life and a home of their own to run?  A subsequent blood pressure check and blood test confirmed his suspicions; I did not have glandular fever and my BP was worryingly high for someone of my age with a reasonably healthy lifestyle.  There it was.  I was suffering from anxiety.

I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I was embarrassed when he said that.  I thought that it was a sign of weakness; that I couldn’t cope with the pressures of my own choices.  Even a few people responded with comments like, “that’s rubbish, that’s not you,” or “Doctors will do anything to try to get out of giving sick lines.”  This made me feel even worse.  I knew something was wrong, I could feel the physical symptoms, but this diagnosis made me feel like a fraud, a shirker.  What I had hoped for was a prescription, even a sick line, but instead I was given the advice to try to slow down.  This was not what I wanted to hear.  My lifestyle was a choice I had made, which parts of it could I choose to cut out in order to let me ‘take it easy’?  I had commitments: work, social, domestic.  Who did I choose to let down?  In the first couple of days I think that hearing this diagnosis actually raised my stress levels.

In the end it took a couple of concerned loved ones to sit me down and tell me to get a grip, that I would be no use to anyone if I burned myself out.  I had had some bad news in work and was facing an upcoming promotion; this coupled with the busy lead-up to Christmas had just been the final straw.  I was so run down that I felt like I couldn’t give my best to any of the things I was trying to do, and this was compounding the pressure.  The thing about anxiety is that it is a self-fulfilling condition.  By its very nature it reduces your ability to cope with the everyday pressures you come up against, and by not being able to deal with the things causing the pressure, it then grows and becomes less and less manageable.  I had gotten to the point where I was finding it difficult to see the joy in anything, and looking on every task and commitment as a chore.  Not a particularly nice place to be.

Seeing how concerned some of my loved ones actually were made me realise that I had to just become ruthless and ignore some of the things that were making demands on my time.    The only way to start to tackle it is to break that cycle by admitting that some of these things are not worth the damage to your health.  I had a holiday where I didn’t take work home and spent it entirely doing things that made me feel happy.  I didn’t go to every party I was invited to, and didn’t feel guilty about it.  I went to bed early every night and asked for more support from the people around me.

I also talked about it.  A lot; and I learned that it was much more common than I realised.  Most of my female friends admitted to feeling at some point like they just wanted to throw in the towel, and an alarming number admitted to the fact that they had cried either at work or because of work (I have and it was not one of my best moments).  Now I am not for one minute suggesting that women can’t cope with the pressures of the workplace.  In fact, completely the opposite.  All of these women have challenging careers that they care about and are good at.  They are all pretty much the boss at home too, and every single one of the people that I talked to probably work harder at these things than their male partners.  These women are high-achievers and they know it.  They all want to be the best they possibly can in their personal and work lives, and I think that sometimes results in us putting unrealistic expectations on ourselves.

As modern women, we are told from a young age that we can have anything we want, be anything we want and do anything we want.  However, I think that this message is quite often distorted in our minds.  ‘Can’ becomes twisted into ‘must’ and ‘anything’ becomes twisted into ‘everything’.  We are expected now to have careers; families who we are devoted to; empowering relationships; to have an exciting and fulfilling social life; to take part in a range of hobbies ‘for ourselves’; to be in charge at home and to be caring and resourceful friends.  Each and every one of these things is beautiful in its own right and help to enrich our lives.  However, the fact of the matter is that some of us don’t want to have all of these things or to be great at all of them; we are quite happy with some of them, or even one of them.  The important thing should be that our gender doesn’t hold us back from having the parts of the life we want, but equally, it shouldn’t mean that we are all suddenly expected to juggle all of these things, it would be physically impossible, and the expectation that we should try is what is making so many of us feel like a failure when we realise we can’t have absolutely everything that is available to us.  We don’t expect every man we meet to do absolutely everything, so why do we expect it of women?

That is a fundamental difference between men and women.  Because women have been told to expect it all, that no one can tell us that we can’t have it, collectively we feel like we have something to prove.  Because we are so aware of the battles fought to allow us to be in a position where we can be considered as equals, we are at pains not to show anything that could be considered a failing.  Particularly in the workplace.

Mums are kind of expected to want to return to work after having their children, so as not to be thought of as ‘just a mum’, after all, women have fought for so long for the right to be allowed to do both.  Does that mean that someone who makes the choice to not return to work after having children to allow her to devote the time she wants to raising them is selling herself short?  Is she succumbing to the stereotype?  Of course not.  Is the working woman who has a fulfilling relationship but doesn’t want to go out clubbing with her friends every weekend giving up her social life for a man?  Of course not.  Is the woman who works a job to fund the passions in her life rather than building a career not living up to her potential?  Of course not.  We all need to go a bit easier on ourselves and each other and understand that these things are choices we can make, and that whatever we choose to have or aim for, is perfectly acceptable, and won’t let the sisterhood down.  Similarly, we need to recognise that we won’t necessarily excel in all of the things we choose to include in our lives, but we only have ourselves and our own expectations to answer to.

Our predecessors in the fight for women’s rights battled for us to be able to make choices about our careers; to be able to have children when and if we chose; to be able to have goals and aspirations that were only limited by our own imaginations; to be equal partners in the home and to be able to pursue our passions and interests independently, without having to rely on, or answer to anyone else.  They wanted this to make our lives better; not to make us feel like we constantly have to be better.

Over the last year I have learned that I am really happy doing the job I am in, at the level I am at.  I am too tired now to party like I used to and I prefer a night in to going out drinking and dancing.  I have learned that my family means so much to me that I don’t want to be too far away from them, and that I love my partner and want him to be happy, so that means that I can’t always have it my way at home.  So maybe this makes me unambitious and boring.  People might assume that I’d be more fulfilled climbing the career ladder in exotic locations and living a wild and exciting social life, but I wouldn’t.  I know it sounds glamorous on paper, but frankly, it would take too much effort and heartbreak for my liking.  No, I’m happy snuggling on my giant couch on a Saturday night, drinking the drink and eating the food that my unpromoted salary affords me, and shooting the shit with the people I like best in the whole world.  All this is safe in the knowledge that if I do decide to make changes to these choices, no-one can stand in my way.

Next time we feel like we have taken on too much we should ask ourselves, is this making my life better?  Is it making me happier?  If the answer is no, then you need to really reconsider whether you want to be doing it at all.  Sometimes real strength is admitting that we have made the wrong choice; that we need help; that we need a break.   One of my all-time favourite quotes from two of the great philosophers of our generation, Bill and Ted, is ‘be excellent to each other.’  I think this is a great motto to live by, but before we do that, we need to remember that it is just as important to be excellent to ourselves.

Review of My 2012

I thought that it might be quite nice to do a wee summary of my 2012 and look back over how many things have changed over the last year.  Although I do put quite a lot of personal stories into this blog, I thought it might be nice to let the five people who follow it who are not people who know me in real (not internet) life get to know me a little better.

Last Year’s Resolutions:

Normally I am terrible at sticking to New Year resolutions.  Former failures include learning to drive, doing at least one new thing every month and getting back into doing 300 sit-ups a day as I did in my teens (ah, the things you have time for when you don’t have a job!)  2012, however, seemed to be the year of actually doing something constructive.  My resolutions last year were as follows:

  1. Cook more stuff from scratch rather than eating processed food.
  2. Exercise more.
  3. Start writing instead of just daydreaming about it.

I think the reasons that I have been far more successful with these resolutions are first of all, I didn’t give myself a specific quantity or goal, just a nudge in the right direction.  Now I know the most successful goals are supposed to be SMART (I HATE that acronym with a passion- it’s so bloody patronising) but for me, I think that the knowledge that I only had to do as much as I wanted and it would still count as keeping my resolve took away that crushing disappointment when you break your first resolution on January 4th.  These were all things that I wanted to do for me.

Regular readers know my thoughts on cooking from previous posts, but once I got into a routine, the cooking thing became a whole lot easier.  It has fallen by the wayside a little bit over the festive period (apart from my mighty Hogmanay feast) but it is a resolution I am going to continue with this year.  Why make new resolutions to trip yourself up when you can do something that you actually want to do?

Exercise normally figures somewhere in my resolutions, but it’s usually the one I find hardest to stick to.  I think my mistake is trying to go at it too hard and then giving up when I can’t stick to my own ridiculous targets.  Last year, I bought an exercise bike and resolved to go on it for half an hour a day when I got in from work whilst watching repeats of ‘Friends’ on Comedy Central- easy!  Well, I think I managed it two days in a row, then missed one, then missed two and soon the bike was relegated to the cupboard as I couldn’t face looking at a daily reminder of my weak will!  It still taunts me from its hiding place and has become a symbol of laziness to me.  I did around about June, however, discover a new form of exercise that I actually enjoy and have subsequently stuck to.  This is another thing that has lapsed a bit over Christmas, but I’m not beating myself up about it, I’ll just pick it up again in a week or two and it will also serve nicely as a resolution for this year too.

The third resolution is something that I’ve talked about for years.  I have harboured Carrie Bradshaw delusions since I first watched ‘Sex and the City’.  Writing is something that I’ve always wanted to do.  I have ideas for several novels and stories saved up in my head where they’ve been brewing nicely for years.  I had written a few things, but never let anyone read them.  I guess I was a bit embarrassed that anyone who read it would think it was rubbish.  Then I started my blog.  I just sucked it up and went for it.  I kept my first post saved but not published for a week or so.  I kept adding bits and changing bits until eventually I came up with something that I thought might not suck.  I put it up and got some positive feedback and a follow or two.  It was enough to spur me on and now, although I don’t have the time and energy to write as much as I’d like, I’ve definitely developed a hobby, so my resolutions for this year will be do turn the hobby into a routine.  And I hope get one of those novels written.

I don’t think it’s cheating to continue to work on things that you don’t feel you’ve managed to hit the top of your game with yet, surely that’s how you get really good at something.  I have added one last resolution for this year:  to wear heels more.  Hey, I figure I might as well turn my shoe addiction into something positive!


Awesome things that have happened:

I know that no-one likes a boaster, but I think that it is important to take stock once in a while and remember the good things that you have in life.  It’s so easy to get bogged down in the stuff that’s not so good, the problems, the stress and the day-to-day drudgery.  Despite a few set-backs, overall I think 2012 was a good year.  Although there have been issues in work, I still managed to come out feeling like I’m making steps in the right direction, and also feel like I’m getting recognition for what I’m doing.  When things get tough in 2013, as I’m sure they will; I’m going to try to hang on to that feeling.  Even if the difference I make is small, as long as it’s happening then that’s ok.

2012 was also the year I fulfilled a longing I’ve had for quite some time now.  I adopted. A dog that is, and he’s great.  It hasn’t been easy, and I’ve learned a lot from him- and not just about dogs.  He is an old guy, and I wonder if we hadn’t taken him if he would have been re-homed at all, but he has turned out to be a great match for us.  It has also led me to giving more support to the Dog’s Trust charity in general, which makes me feel all warm inside.

Last, but certainly not least, I got engaged.  I still stick to what I said in my earlier post about marriage (despite my beloved at the time saying it sounded like a woman who was desperate to get married), and will probably write a follow-up at some point soon.  And even though I complained profusely about our society not having developed the language to describe many modern relationships, I’m still finding it hard to get used to referring to him as ‘my fiancé’, instead reverting back to good old ‘boyfriend’.


Things I have learned this year:

So, 2012 has been eventful, and hopefully I have taken some valuable lessons from it.  Points I have learned are:

  1. Despite mothers getting very offended when people say this, dogs are a bit like children, so perhaps I might be more cut out for motherhood than I had previously thought.  No promises yet though, so don’t rush out to buy bootees!
  2. Just when you think you know someone inside out- they can really surprise you.  That’s a good quality to have in a      partner (as long as the surprises are pleasant and don’t involve anything to do with secretly wearing your underwear or having a secret wife and family in another country!)
  3. If I set my mind to something, I’ll get it done.  My biggest obstacle to moving forward is me and my lack of motivation.
  4. You don’t have to get someone else’s approval for a job done well. Your own approval can be enough. But it is nice to be appreciated sometimes.

So, that’s my personal review of the year.  If this inspires you to take a look back over your own, please, start with the positives- what did you manage to achieve? If you look at the things you didn’t- do they really matter?  If they do, take this chance to think about how to start to tackle them again, and what you learned from your mistakes.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make my dinner (from scratch) and then I’ll get stuck into the novel.  Unless I can find something good on TV!

What’s the Opposite of Vanity Sizing?

Now I know regular readers of this blog have become accustomed to well-reasoned, witty arguments on issues relevant to modern women ;-), so this post might disappoint.  This is a rant.  After having a micro-meltdown on the subject in a shop a couple of weeks ago I figured it might be more constructive to write it down.

I am a size 12.  Or at least I thought I was.  Lately I’m not so sure.  I’ve been beginning to think that maybe I’m suffering from body dysmorphia, but rather than seeing myself as bigger than I actually am, I was deluding myself about being smaller.  Now, I know that different shops have different versions of UK dress sizes.  It was always a safe bet that fashion shops for younger women would cut their clothes smaller than more traditional brands like Marks and Spencer’s, who always sized their clothes more generously.  In fact, I’m sure a few years back there was some discussion over so-called vanity sizing.  This was when shops tried to flatter customers by cutting their clothes on the larger side, thus enabling customers to purchase clothes in smaller sizes.  Because apparently we women are that easily duped!

Over the last year or so, however, I have noticed that the sizing in some shops seem to be getting smaller and smaller.  So much so in fact, that I got a surprise when I  recently tried on a pair of trousers that I liked in a shop that I have frequented for years.  I couldn’t get the 14 over my thighs!  In fact, the only size I could get on and buttoned up was an 18.  I don’t think that I am that deluded about my size.  The real conundrum is that I recently got a top from the same shop which is a size 10 and fits perfectly, and I ‘aint no Nicki Minaj let me tell you.

It’s not just me, either.  On a recent shopping trip, one of my posse of rocking ladies had to buy a skirt in a 16, and a top in a 10.  She doesn’t have buttocks of Lopez-proportions either.  Even shoes seem to be ensnared in this evil plot.  I’ve been a size 6 since I was about fourteen and on a recent shopping trip I found myself having to try on a size 8 of one pair!  It seems like the whole industry is trying to tell us something!

Actually, in all seriousness, I think this is a bit more sinister.  Even as an intelligent woman who has pretty much made peace with the way she looks, I still felt a bit put out when I couldn’t get the trousers to fit in ‘my size’.  It’s not about the size the trousers were, it’s about how far out of whack the sizings are and the way this can make you question they way you feel, whatever size is ‘your size’.  There is a difference of six inches between a size 12 and a size 18.  If it can make me feel a little self-conscious, I can imagine that it could have a more significant impact on a more impressionable woman or girl.  It may seem like a trivial thing to get worked up over, but in a time when eating disorders and body image issues are at an all-time high, even the trivial things can have a massive impact on vulnerable individuals.

We are bombarded on a daily basis with images of women airbrushed to an impossible standard; it’s difficult to remember that that isn’t real.  That women come in all shapes and sizes, but we should be allowed to be the size we are without being made to feel that we should be smaller, larger or with bumps in different places.  It feels increasingly like the clothes industry is joining in the conspiracy.

Now maybe you feel that I’m making a bigger deal out of this than is strictly necessary.  I’m sure the size 8 shop assistant who had to deal with my complaint about the sizing in the shop felt that.  I think it’s one of these things that we are made to feel guilty about caring about.  Yes, it’s a small thing, but it can make people feel bad and that’s not cool.   I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts, stories and indeed, rants on this topic.

Time to Have a Voice


“The United Nations’ (UN) International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is an occasion for governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations to raise public awareness of violence against women. It has been observed on November 25 each year since 2000.” [1]

International day for the elimination of violence against women is an occasion which aims to give female victims of violence a voice; to make people aware of an issue which still goes on.  To mark this occasion, I’ve decided to tell my story.

Almost nine years ago, I was attacked on my way home from a night out.  It was two days after Christmas.  I had been walking home from a nightclub around two or three o’clock in the morning.  I know this sounds crazy, but I lived in a student-y area where there were always people around and I had done it a hundred times before.  It’s one of those things where you think “It’ll never happen to me!”  But it did.  People have said to me that I was lucky; and I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.  It was a sexually-motivated attack, but my attacker was disturbed before he did me any physical harm.  I managed to walk away with little more outward damage than the bruises of his fingers on my face from where he had grabbed me to try to stop me from screaming.

I suppose if you look at it that way I was lucky.  I was one of the first in a series of around ten women attacked by this man over a period of eight days.  Each attack increased in severity as the attacker grew bolder.  In that respect I suppose I’m lucky I was one of the first.  I didn’t- and still don’t- feel lucky though.

This is not an experience that every woman should have to expect to go through at some point in her life, and in my case, I should be thankful that it wasn’t worse.  This is something that should never have happened.  My attacker had a warrant out for his arrest out at the time.  It took the police over a week to catch him.  I had to suffer the stress of police interviews, an identity parade, an impending court case and the prospect of having to face my attacker in court.  All of this took place over around four months, and it coincided with my dissertation submission and final exams at university.  Rather than looking on the bright side and being thankful that the attack hadn’t been worse, I was furious that it had happened to me at all, and people telling me I was lucky made it worse.  It undermined the pain I was going through.

Although I was not badly physically harmed, and the outward signs healed fairly quickly, the damage inside was far greater.  My outlook changed almost overnight.  On the 26th of December I was confident, outgoing, a risk taker and probably a bit too much of a party girl.  By the 28th of December I had to sleep in the same bed as my mum because I couldn’t bear to be alone.  If I was left with my own thoughts for any length of time, I replayed what had happened in my mind and would freeze.  I didn’t leave the house for over a week. I still remember the first time I left the house after that.  I can visualise it exactly, as if it happened five minutes ago.  I only walked to our local shop, but I clung to my dad’s arm like a crippled old woman, constantly checking over my shoulder. In a sense I was crippled.  My sense of who I was had been smashed into dust, and I had no idea how to move forward.

At the time the police offered me counselling, but in the immediate aftermath, I refused.  The title ‘victim support’ made me cringe.  I didn’t want to be a victim.  No one knew how to talk to me about it, and so everything I was feeling was left unsaid, and actually, this is the first time I have ever actually disclosed what I was thinking and feeling.  In truth, I was ashamed, and I didn’t want to drag others down with me.

Over time, and with the absolute unwavering support and patience of my parents (and I will always, always feel a debt of gratitude for this- even though they would say they were just doing their job as parents- I feel like they brought me back to life.  I don’t think they will ever understand quite how much that meant to me.)  I slowly started to regain my ‘self’.  Following this there were a great many ‘firsts’.  The first time I was alone in the house.  The first time I went back to my student accommodation.  The first time I went back to work.  The first time I went out alone.  Each one was a little victory, and a hugely significant step on my path to being able to live my life free of the restraints I was enforcing on myself.

Without being melodramatic, this did fundamentally change who I was.  I am no longer a risk-taker.  I will go to extreme lengths to ensure my personal safety, and I worry about my friends and family when I can’t see them, and not just about something similar happening, I am generally far more anxious about the world in general now.  I would also say that I am more subdued, and even the way I dress is a bit more conservative, but I guess that’s what happens when a policeman interrogates you about the specifics of your clothing on the night of your attack to ascertain whether that might have provoked your attacker.

Now I’m better. Not the same as before, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in its own right.  I still occasionally think about what happened though.  Not as frequently as before, but when I do the same thing happens.  I become paralysed.  Fear and panic take over and I forget to breathe, and I have to snap myself out of the trance.  I am still angry.  For what that man did to all of us (I met the other girls at the identity parade.  No one spoke to each other, but we all wore the same expression, averted our gaze and got out as quickly as we could) he was sentence to thirty months in prison.  I assume he was probably out in just over a year.  It sometimes strikes me that I might run into him in the street.  He could be living around the corner, but I have to put that out of my mind or I don’t know that I would ever be able to un-freeze.

I think that not talking about it made it worse.  I wish I had had the balls to just force someone to hear me out, so that I could exorcise all of the hurt, anger and bad I had festering inside me.  If there’s one thing I want others to take from this, it’s that.  Talk.

Below is a piece of writing I did a few years ago to try to get some of the bile out of my core.  I suppose it’s a little of me baring my soul.  At the time it was a form of catharsis, and even all these years later, putting it out on a public forum is terrifying, but it still feels like a sort of release.  Hopefully it will show that even after you fall apart, even when you can’t make sense of yourself, you can fight your way back, it just takes time.


Open Letter to J.R.C.

How to begin?  I have so much to say to you and nothing at all.  How are you?  What are you doing now?  Where are you?  The last question is the one that frightens me the most.  It feels so strange to address you as ‘you’.  That feels so familiar, accepting, forgiving.  It seems strange to me that there is no pronoun to use that seems appropriate.  That encapsulates what you are, and what you are to me.

I am fine, now, in case you are wondering, although I don’t suppose you are.  Do you even know who I am?  Do you remember me?  Did you ever even know my name?  It seems strange to think that you had such a colossal impact on my life, in who I’ve become, and I probably barely even registered on yours.  A blip.  An error in judgement that cost you part of 36 months.  Do you hate me for what I did to you?  Can an empty shell feel hate and remorse?

I try not to think about what you did.  Not any more anyway.  There was a time of course, when I could not stop thinking about it; when I replayed it in my mind, and projected alternative endings and fantasised about sequels.  I could not sleep at night.  The darkness and solitude conjured up a weight on my chest which swelled and crushed until I had to physically shake myself out of a trance induced by my mounting panic.  I listened for your footsteps outside my house.  Of course they never came, you don’t even know where it is, but at night, in darkness and solitude, I did not exist in the real world.  I existed in a world where I was alone, and you wanted to finish what you started.

The first few days I was in suspended motion.  I was in limbo.  I honestly felt like my life as I knew it had ended and I just didn’t know how to start it again.  However, just knowing that my parents were there to catch me was just enough to set me back on my way again.  I wonder if they even know how much they did for me.

I sometimes think about how they must have felt, but in all honesty, I cannot even imagine.  Whatever it was, they didn’t let it get in the way.  They must have felt so angry: how dare someone do that to their child?  I suspect there may have been a touch of guilt, as those close to victims of violence probably feel when they cannot prevent it.  Whatever it was, they did not succumb to it.  They poured themselves into carefully putting their broken daughter back together again.  Of course I know they were angry and they were hurting, I could see it in their eyes when they heard me give my statement to the police.  Hearing the things that you did and wanted to do to their daughter must have been heart-breaking.

To their infinite credit, they focused on staying positive for me.  Oh I know that my father would have loved to get you alone, and he told me so once, but for the most part they did not waste their breath on you.  They gave me everything I needed, were with me every step of the way out of the darkness, and for that I will be eternally grateful.  Even today, nearly five years later, they still worry about me a little more than the others.  If I’m running a little bit late, they call me, just to check.  I don’t mind though.  For their endless love and support I will always be indebted.

The first time I ventured back outside was like being re-born.  The whole world seemed different.  It looked the same, it was the same, but my perception was completely altered.  I clung to my father’s arm like an invalid but his strength was my emotional crutch.  Physically, you hardly left a mark.  Some small, finger-print sized bruises on my face, but the real scars are inside.  Although they have healed over, they will always be here, like the mark on my knee from where I fell over in my first year at school.

That was the day that I realised that actually, I would be ok.  That the world had still gone on, it was only me who had stopped.  I knew that my dad would not let me go until I was ready and that the only person who could push me back into real-life was me.

For the first few weeks I was shaky.  I think I sank to the bottom on the evening I had to identify you.  I waited in a room with the other girls and all of a sudden I truly felt like a victim.  The humiliation was like a slap in the face and I hung my head, ashamed at how something like you could define me as such.  I looked at my dad and I think he understood. 

At first I didn’t want to leave the house on my own, then, gradually I regained my confidence.  Eventually I was only afraid to be out alone at night.  I still am.  I don’t think that will ever go away.

In some way, I think you opened my eyes to the way the world really is.  Was I really that cocky and arrogant before?  Sometimes I think it is good for me to be so cautious now- sometimes I think I’m missing out.  My sense of self-worth however, is completely re-invented.  I have a new respect for all of my achievements, however small, because I did it.  Me.

So in a way, I guess you have helped to make me a better person.  Not in every respect though.  I’ve gone from feeling afraid to guilty and now I’m mostly angry.  Not all of the time, but sometimes it hits me.  It takes over and clouds my mind like a mist.

My vitriol festers inside.  An opposite, equivalent to my heart.  Like a living, pulsating entity.  I imagine it would look like a clot of bluebottles clustered round a small, dead piece of me.  But it doesn’t get to take over very often now.

Sometimes, for a few seconds it grabs control and I am literally hypnotised by it.  I have visions of smashing you into a thousand jagged fragments.  Literally as you did to me figuratively.  Even though you are not there, I experience the physical manifestations of my rage.  A quickening of pulse and breath; muscles tensed ready for revenge; jaw set against you.

Then I’ll snap out of it, feeling ashamed of myself for succumbing to thoughts of you.  I look around to check if anyone noticed the change in me.  And this is what I hate.  Despite the fact that to me, you are worth nothing, not even the effort of my anger.  To me you are not a human being.  You are the sum of all the right parts of a human being, but something important is missing.  I don’t even want to think about you, let alone be angry when thinking of you.  You see, when that happens, and I feel like disregarding the fact that you are a person and committing an act of violence, I become closer to what you are, and that disgusts me.

Sometimes I wonder if I am over-reacting, making a fuss over nothing and still going on about something I really should be over by now, after all, did I not escape relatively unscathed?  Frightened?  Yes.  Bruised?  Yes, but they heal.  Some of the others, so I’m led to believe, were not as ‘lucky’ and I was.  The people who consider me so have a strange definition of luck.  I do not consider myself lucky to have met you. 

I have friends who, at the time, didn’t seem to care about what happened.  They expected me to continue as normal, and played no part in the recovery process.  They cannot understand.  The effect of an experience cannot be measured according to the perceived severity of the incident; the effect is wholly personal to the victim.  I am the only person who truly knows the effect your actions had.  Of course, there were consequences for others, but I am the only person who can define what happened to me on the morning of December 27th 2003.  Regardless of how little you may think you did, I am the only person who can tell you the full extent of the impact of your actions, and I am the only person who can decide if you have fully atoned for what you did.

How do I feel about you now?  I’m not sure I can fully answer that.  I don’t think that you acted out of malice or evil, I think you were selfish.  In an attempt to gratify your impulses, you did what you wanted, without any thought for how it would affect me.  It may sound strange, but I don’t think you actually intended to harm me.  That didn’t enter the equation.  It was not about me and how I might feel about what you were doing, it was about what you were doing made you feel.

No, I don’t think you actually intended to harm me, but you did.  For that I can never forgive you, because you see, unlike you, I am a human being.  A human being who has been violated.  You are an empty shell.  Your disregard for others shows a lack of empathy.  Maybe you would not feel like this, but I do.  I am human.  I want to be free from the hatred, but I can’t.  I will always have this putrid, stinking abhorrence for you buried in my chest.  I want to be the kind of person who forgives you, but I can’t.  I don’t think I ever will.  I’m too human.

[1] www.timeanddate.com [accessed 20/09/12]

Oi, Boys! How about no?

Don’t be a dick.  It’s a simple rule, but it’s one I try to live by.  If you’re not sure whether you should do something just ask yourself: would a total cock do this?  If the answer is yes, don’t do it.  Not difficult.  That’s why one of my pet hates is when people act like dicks and then wonder why other people don’t respond positively to it.  Yes, I am thinking of something specific, and boys, you ‘aint gonna like this!

Now before you start moaning, let me just clarify before we get started proper: I am not talking about ALL men.  Not by a long shot.  I am pleased to admit that most of my male friends would never dream of doing this, and also agree that guys who do are dicks.  However, in my experience, there are quite a lot of men (well, boys, actually, in my experience) who do think that the type of behaviour I want to discuss is acceptable, and to be quite honest, however many it actually totals, is too many.

Now I’m not sure what the collective term for this set of behaviours is but it’s characterised by a couple of things: a group of young-ish ‘lads’; usually booze is involved and often, but not always some sort of pub or night club (although my most recent experience of this took place in the car park outside my house- yes, really!)  It can involve comments, gestures, unwanted contact, grabbing and physical violence, all in the name of catching a girl’s attention.  It’s the things that groups of boys do to try to impress each other, while secretly hoping that the girl will fall for their cheeky chappie charm.  It’s the same mind-set as the wee boy in the playground who pulls the girl he fancies’ hair.  Personally, I call these guys gropists.

What I’m actually talking about is sexual harassment, but most of the perpetrators would be horrified with that label.  A few months ago I had cause to speak to a group of young boys that I work with about this type of behaviour.  When I used the words ‘sexual harassment’ at first, they started giggling.  Then this turned into disbelief- they thought I was over-reacting.  Then, when I explained how this works in the real world, and the consequences it could lead to for the guilty parties, the look of shame set in as they realised how shitty their behaviour had been.  The problem, in my experience however, is that very few of the young men who behave like this are willing to accept that they have done anything wrong.

In my (reasonably) short life time I have been subject to a number of experiences where I have had to defend myself from the unwanted advances of socially-inept young men.  I have been grabbed; actually lifted up; yelled at; insulted and followed.  I’ve had someone chap my window in the middle of the night.  He thought it was like ‘Romeo and Juliet’; I was about thirty seconds away from sending my dad out with the baseball bat.  I’ve had someone unexpectedly hand me a pair of prosthetic ears while I was waiting to be served at a student bar.  My friend and I used to go out clubbing together quite a lot and coined the phrase ‘circle of love’ to ironically describe the sensation when a group of boys circled us on the dancefloor.  I had never realised until that point that young men hunt their prey in packs.  I have heard of things worse than this happening.  If you haven’t heard of it already, Google ‘slut-dropping’ and prepare to weep.

Most recently I had a pair of charming young men wait for me to return from walking my dog at half past eleven on a Saturday night and tell me that they had been waiting for me to come back.  What utterly tremendous stupidity.  It takes someone with very little powers of reflection to fail to see why it is not a good idea to say that to a woman on her own late at night.

My responses to these acts of idiocy are varied.  Sometimes a withering put down will suffice; or a death stare can be quite effective.  I had a fairly standard reaction to gropists who grabbed me; I would grab them back by the wrist and cooly inform them, that should they repeat the action, they would be pulling back a stump.  I had to scream in the face of the guy who picked me up before he would put me down.  I’ve been so angry on more than one occasion that I have punched the gropist involved.  In all of the situations I have described, I never once invited the attention, perhaps other than possibly having the brass-neck to wear a short dress (please, get the irony inferred).  In each of them I was left feeling angry, insulted and demeaned.  It is difficult not to be offended when someone you don’t know has treated you like you are a bag of crisps on a shop shelf.

To paraphrase one of my favourite authors, one minute you’re a doll, the next you’re a dog, all because you dared to disapprove of being pawed or catcalled.  We ladies can’t really win in this situation.  There is real danger in the idea pervasive amongst those who are responsible that this is a joke.  It can only be considered a joke if the person it is aimed at agrees, not the instigator.  Any type of attention can be unwelcome, and that should be respected.  No one has the right to touch someone else uninvited, however innocent they think that contact might seem. You do not know a stranger’s circumstances.  You don’t know what experiences they have had in the past, and you certainly don’t have the right to decide what is acceptable to do to another person, regardless of your motives.

To be clear, this is not a post about sex offenders.  I’m not talking about sexual assault or rape, that’s a whole other subject, and I would hope there is no ambiguity about what is not acceptable there.  The real problem here is that a lot of people (the ones responsible) don’t think that there is a problem, and that for me is a bigger problem than the problem itself.  Are you lost yet?  Nearly there.  The attitude that it’s just a bit of fun, and that us harridans who have the nerve to complain about it really need to just lighten up is a throw-back to the times when women were considered to be the property of men, and they had to just put up and shut up.  The normalisation amongst some young men of what is blatantly the objectification of women is very worrying, even more so is the fact that many of them have never even considered that they might be doing something offensive.  It shows that all the progress made towards economic equality is really just a veneer for an underlying core of old-fashioned sexism: the men are the bosses and can essentially do whatever the hell they like to whomever the hell the like.  Providing they are female.

If this attitude goes unchallenged, I think that everything else achieved in the name of feminism seems rather patronising.  That ok, we can have our equal pay and employment rights, but really, all the boys are trying to do is shut us up, because deep down, they feel they are superior.

So, who is to blame for this sorry state of affairs?  Culturally there is a bit of a tradition of this in nightclubs and student unions, where young women are encouraged to take part in sexualised and often humiliating stunts for some sort of prize, usually shots of some variety.  It could be argued that these young women themselves are to blame; if they didn’t join in, these activities would very quickly die out.  I must say there have been times when I’ve wanted to shake some wee lassie who I see being hassled on the dancefloor who smiles up through her eyelashes at the cave man groping her arse in order to get her attention, then turn to her friend and roll her eyes.  If you don’t want him to do it- tell him to stop!  This, however is veering dangerously close to ‘she asked for it’ territory.  The fact is that the girl should not have to respond to this sort of behaviour in the first place.  Many young women are afraid to challenge this, especially if their particular would-be suitor is a member of an above-mentioned pack.

Ultimately, the fault lies with the perpetrators, not the victims, but how do we tackle a problem that many of the guilty parties are not even aware exists?  Does it need to start with the new boys being born?  Do we take responsibility for educating our sons and hope that eventually the problem dies out?  Do we continue to punch the idiots who do this until we punch some sense into their thick skulls?  Do the owners of the establishments where these incidents often occur need to take a tougher stance on this sort of behaviour?  Or is it bigger than this?  Is this something that we need to be making more noise about on a national level?

The answer is, I don’t know.  When it comes down to it, I’m just a torn-faced harridan having a rant about something that really annoys her on a public forum.  What I do know for sure, is that I’m not the only person who feels this way.  Not by a long shot.

Let’s Hear it for the Girls!

I thought that it might be about time for another positive post rather than a rant; I wanted to do a little celebratory piece.  So being a great lover of literature, I thought that it was about time I wrote about great female writers that I admire; who have inspired me and made me cry, laugh and just feel.  Here are my top ten brilliant women that you really should read.

  1.  Jane Austen- Apart from the facts that she is pretty funny (y’know- for a woman) and her books are entertaining, she wrote books about women.  Strong women.  And she tells their stories sympathetically.  This is no mean feat for someone of any gender writing in the early  nineteenth century, where women were considered property and not really of much consequence.  Start off with ‘Emma’ and work your way up to ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and beyond.
  2. Charlotte Brontë- I say Charlotte because she  wrote ‘Jane Eyre’, which is one of my all-time favourite books ever!  For its feminist credentials see above, but also because she had the guts to create a heroine  who isn’t beautiful, or talented or especially clever; she’s just your average  girl.  What she is is tough, a strong woman who has the balls to say, ok I’m not beautiful or special, but that doesn’t mean I don’t matter.   She made the point that women should be valued as people in their own right, not in terms of their attributes, physical or otherwise.  Now I love books, but I’m the first to admit that there are many important books that I haven’t read yet, but this is the earliest one I’ve come across that states this message and has stayed in the canon of the classics.
  3. Kathryn Stockett- You must  read ‘The Help’.  Again, this is one of my favourite books I’ve ever read.  It deals with an enormously important period in history , through the eyes of the people at the bottom of the social pecking order: black housemaids.  I love the solidarity of the female characters and in the same breath I’m ashamed by the pinpoint-accurate portrayal of the tendency of women to persecute each other out of jealousy  and insecurity.  The characters are beautifully imagined and the story aims to give a voice to those who were never heard.  It highlights the power within all of us to effect change, even in the seemingly smallest of ways.  The film adaptation is actually pretty damn good too- it really did deserve all the hype.
  4. Lionel Shriver- She is one of the most fiercely intelligent writers I have ever had the pleasure of reading, and she seems like the kind of woman I’d love to sit down, have a beer and shoot the shit with.  I’ve read ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ (incidentally, another decent film adaptation) and ‘So Much for That’ to date and, without a hint of exaggeration- they are brilliant!  I fully intend to read the rest of her back catalogue as soon as I can.  ‘So Much for That’ tackles the subject of terminal illness.  It’s a book that should be completely harrowing, and in places it is, but at the same time is utterly uplifting too.  ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ tackles the taboo subject of a mother who does not love her child.  It is a  challenging book to read, but ultimately rewarding; devastating  and enlightening in equal measure .  I think your response to the main character, Eva Khatchadourian, depends very much on where you stand in the woman’s-right-NOT-to-have-children debate, and I believe Shriver was villified over the subject when the book was first published; but it’s a subject definitely worth exploration.  Both of these books had me dealing with pretty much the full spectrum of my emotions, but it was definitely worth the challenge.
  5. Dawn French- Her novel ‘A Tiny Bit Marvellous’ is a highly enjoyable read, but by extension, her work with comedy partner Jennifer Saunders is also worth a mention.  Two women who are unashamed about what they do, and easily hold their own in the male-dominated arena of TV comedy, and have done so for more than twenty years.  Respect is due.
  6. Candace Bushnell- I know this is a bit controversial, seeing as ‘Sex and the City’ and everything to do with it is the very definition of chick lit (when I said I was a lover of literature, I really meant I’m a terrible literary snob- I mean really terrible; friends have fallen out with me over it- honest! ) and I intend to dedicate a whole post debating the feminist credentials of the series at a later date.  However, if Bushnell is  responsible for inspiring the whole phenomenon known as SATC, then she is  responsible for inspiring my ‘don’t tell me I can’t do it just because I’m a woman’ attitude from a fairly young age.   In my eyes, that wins her a place on this list.
  7. Caitlin Moran- Her book ‘How to be a Woman’ is a must-read for the modern feminist- and everyone else too in fact.  I know a lot of people are raving about this book, but there is a good reason for that.  It’s spit-out-your-drink funny, but also thought-provoking (and in places disgusting- the woman single-handedly made up my mind for good not to have children!)  I can genuinely say that this book has had a profound effect on my life.   It didn’t change things, but it damn well made me see them a whole lot clearer.  Things are starting to take off for Moran now- a TV series and another book are on the way- and quite rightly so.  She is also quite regularly funny in her role as a columnist for the Times and even more frequently on twitter (@caitlinmoran). As for ‘How to be a Woman?  Read.  It.  Now.  Seriously.  Do it!
  8. Grace Dent- although her book ‘How to Leave Twitter’ is brilliant on its own, with many actual lolz via  her razor-sharp observations, Dent is one of my favourite current writers more for her work as a columnist. (She also gives good tweet- @gracedent).  Her work is reliably acerbic, and I do  like my humour cutting.  With the beehive, heels and the retro styling, this is one terrifyingly formidable woman.  You get the impression she could make balls shrivel with one withering stare.  I want to be like that when I grow up.
  9. Mary Shelley- Another woman ahead of her time.  Although she was apparently inspired to write ‘Frankenstein’ for one of the most insipid, wussy reasons I’ve ever heard- she had a nightmare after reading an article about an experiment Darwin was conducting where he tried to reanimate worms using electricity, at least she wasn’t too scared to write the book!  She wrote a terrifying novel about the potential effects of messing with nature.  About men who played at being God.  There are several very interesting feminist interpretations of the novel, including a discussion of the importance of ‘The Mother’ and also from the perspective of being kept as an outsider in a male-dominated society.   It is a brilliantly conceived novel and when I first read it I felt a strong connection to it, and relished in the study of it, dissecting it like Victor Frankenstein’s corpses.  It is one of the books that really inspired a love of the study of literature in me,  in fact, I think I enjoyed reading the criticism of the book almost as much as the book itself.
  10. J.K. Rowling- There are  many female writers that I love; whose work has moved me and made me think and I’m not going to have space for them all in a top ten.  However, I feel that J.K. deserves a place on my list.  Now wait a minute and hear me out (sheesh- and I thought I was a literary snob.)  I liked reading the Harry Potter novels.  Ok, so they’re not Earth-shatteringly original or technically brilliant, but they are enjoyable.  The main point being that millions of people agree with me on this, making her one of the best-selling fiction writers of all time.   I think that a wee lady from Edinburgh who manages to take herself from being an unemployed single mother to one of the most successful authors of our time deserves a mention in a feminist blog.  Here’s to J.K. and showing the world what determination and believing in your ideas can lead to.
  11. A special honourary bonus place goes to E. L. James.  Just kidding.  I really am a literary snob.

Thanks for sticking with this ‘til the end, but who doesn’t love a good old top ten?  I’d love to know which ones you agree and disagree with.  In fact, why not do your own top ten (or three, or five, or seven- anything will do) in the comments section?  Go on, who can resist?

London 2012: great fun, but don’t forget…

Not the most timeous blog ever, but now that all the fun and Olympic games are over, I think some reflection on an important part of the legacy of the London 2012 Olympics is in order.  Before I get started, let me just clear something up.  I hate televised sport.  In fact, I’m not even much of a fan of sport in general (to me it’s more of a necessary evil), but I’ve always found watching it on TV boring.

I was dreading the promised three weeks of the stuff forced upon us in the Olympic occupation of the BBC.  To me, this was televisual tyranny, deciding that we should all consume gluttonous quantities of sports coverage.  I was preparing myself for DVD box-set overload.   Then I watched the opening ceremony.  I switched it on with an air of scepticism. I think I might have even said something to the effect of, “Right, let’s see how crap this is.”

I’m not too proud to admit that Danny Boyle really showed me.  It actually made me, über-cynic, feel proud that it was my country that was responsible for this.  I’m normally one of those people who points out the irony of when Scottish athletes win- they’re British; if they lose- they’re Scottish.  I’m normally the one who avoids the bandwagon on principle.  But I was sucked right in.  The spectacle.  The humour.   Mr Bean tweeting!  I loved it, and what a welcome to the other competitors.  Not only was I thoroughly entertained, but my appetite was whet.  I was hungry for the games.

The games themselves didn’t disappoint.  I was screaming at the telly when Mo Farah casually overtook all of the other runners to win his second gold medal.  I was biting my nails to see if Tom Daley would win gold.  I was humbled by the sportsmanship, and baffled by some sports I had never heard of before.  The closing ceremony might not quite have matched up to the opening ceremony, but come on, who didn’t love the Spice Girls on top of taxis in heels?

Now that’s all very nice, but the statistics of the games speak for themselves.  This year’s games were all about the girls.  44% of team GB were female.  British female athletes won ten gold medals, more than the combined male and female gold medal haul for some much larger countries such as Japan.  This is the highest number of British female gold medal winners in history.  Quite rightly this is being celebrated.  To all of those people who reckon that winning an Olympic medal is no big deal I say: you try it!  These medal winners (male and female) are titans among us mere mortals, and we should celebrate their awe-inspiring achievements, as well as the immense dedication and significant sacrifices it took to make them.

However, achievement at London 2012 can’t merely be measured in precious metal.  For the first time ever, all competing nations were represented by male and female athletes.  This is a significant step for international women’s rights.  Even countries that repeatedly come under fire for their shocking abuse of women in the name of tradition made the momentous decision to sanction the contribution of sports women as well as men.  Brunai, Quatar and Saudi Arabia- who had previously refused to allow female competitors- were now represented by male and female athletes. [1]  Many people believe that this is a publicity exercise on the part of these countries.  Publicity exercise or not, the first steps have been taken.

Before we start cheering these steps on, we must be aware that they are baby steps.  Some women literally risked their lives in order to represent their country.  Tahmina Kohistani represented Afghanistan in the 100m sprint, despite having to endure almost daily abuse from groups of men during her training.  Training which, incidentally, took place in a stadium which had previously accommodated Taliban executions, a haunting reminder of the regime which has brutally oppressed women for aeons.  In Somalia, female runners had to hide their tracksuits under burkas until they were hidden from public view.  A very small number of Muslim female athletes had even reported receiving death threats in an attempt to dissuade them from competing, and, understandably,  for some, this was not a risk worth taking.  The Iraqi women’s wrestling team disbanded in 2009 as a result of death threats made against them.

Despite this, a number of brave women have opted to take the stand and risk their safety, and in some cases, their lives in order to compete.  To represent their country in a positive light: such as Tahmina Kohistani, who says of her home, Afghanistan:  “Right now in my country every day there are bomb blasts, there is killing- it is very important for me to represent a country that has lots of problems like this.”[2]  Some are outspoken about their dedication to promoting women’s rights such as Woroud Sawalha of Palestine who says: “I hope when I return to my country I will try to change society’s views on women playing sports.” [3]  If the team GB women’s efforts were those of Titans; the efforts of these women border on superhuman, in strength of will if nothing else.

So, in my view, the legacy of London 2012 is much greater than inspiring young people to participate in sport: it has brought the issue of female oppression to the fore and challenged those responsible for the oppressing.  Maybe the legacy of Rio 2016 could be that all of the competitors, regardless of gender, are free to train and compete without fear of persecution and violence.


*Dedicated to all of the female medalists who did team GB proud in the 2012 Olympics: Jade Jones, taekwondo, 57kg;  Nicola Adams, boxing, flyweight;  Charlotte Dujardin, equestrianism, individual dressage and equestrianism, team dressage;  Laura Trott, cycling, omnium; Laura Bechtolsheimer, equestrianism, team dressage and equestrianism, individual dressage; Jessica Ennis, athletics, heptathlon; Jo Rowsell, Laura Trott and Dani King, cycling, team pursuit; Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking, rowing, lightweight double sculls;   Victoria Pendleton, cycling, keirin and cycling, sprint final; Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins, rowing, double sculls; Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, rowing, pair;  Samantha Murray, modern pentathlon;  Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark, sailing, 470 class;  Christine Ohuruogu, athletics, 400m; Laura Robson, tennis, mixed doubles; Gemma Gibbons, judo, 78kg; Tina Cook, Mary King, Zara Phillips and Nicola Wilson, equestrianism, team eventing; Lizzie Armitstead, cycling, road race; Women’s hockey team; Beth Tweddle, gymnastics, uneven bars; Karina Bryant, judo, 78kg;  Rebecca Adlington, swimming, 800m freestyle and swimming, 400m freestyle.  Ladies, we salute you![4]



[1] BBC ‘BBC News at Six’ broadcast 10/08/12

[2] Kohistani, T. quoted in ‘The Olympic Suffragettes’ Grazia 13/08/12

[3] Sawalha, W. quoted in ‘The Olympic Suffragettes’ Grazia 13/08/12

[4] ‘Team GB: every Olympic gold, silver and bronze medallist’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2012/aug/05/team-gb-every-olympic-medallist 13/08/12

Age: is it really just a number?

So, I am fast (very fast) approaching thirty.  I’ve been preparing myself for this since just before I turned twenty-nine actually, and I think I’m ok with it.  I feel like if my sixteen year-old self met me now, she wouldn’t be too disappointed.  Ok, rather than being a full time anarchist I now work for ‘the man’ (read, the local council), my tattoo sleeve never did quite become fully realised and I still can’t drive, but I think overall, I have managed to achieve most of what my sixteen year old self would have imagined I would by the time I was this age (although at that age, I probably actually couldn’t conceive of being 30; twenty-one probably seemed like the end of time).

I never really knew as a youngster what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up;’ I just wanted to be happy in a job that I enjoyed.  So although I didn’t actually get the job as the person who oils up the male models for photo-shoots, (still, I maintain, the only job I would ever do for free) I found my way into a career that I hadn’t thought of at sixteen, but am now wholly glad I did find.  I always thought that I would have a very bohemian relationship with a gorgeous man.  Ok, so the relationship is probably not as unconventional as I’d thought, the gorgeous man is here, and he doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, so those two boxes have been ticked.  I worked hard and got an education I’m proud of.  I have managed to fulfil some of my ambitions along the way.  I’ve travelled to Australia, viewed art in Paris and I’ve been to Disney World.  I still do some of the things I loved to do at sixteen, like go to see bands play live regularly, read and write for pleasure, in fact, I’ve probably got more motivation now than I ever did as a teenager to do these sorts of things.

I think the great realisation is that I still want to keep doing these things for a long time yet.  I might go back to study more (seriously, I’d love to be a professor, I might have to make to with a PhD though.) I hope to continue going to see the bands I love and doing the things that make me happy.  There’s a lot of the world that I still plan to see.  I’d like to at least write a book and have a go at getting published (come on, if ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ can become the best-selling paperback of all time surely they’ll publish any old shit!)  When you’re a teenager, it is quite difficult to project into the future.  One of the benefits of being 30 is that you have seen some of how your future can unfold and develop.  It’s given me a taste for it, and a determination to keep pushing on.  Very far from the boring, settled-down, done-everything-I-can person that many young people think you’ll become.

Now, inevitably, approaching thirty has led to some ridicule from others about getting ‘old’, namely from my dad and my sprightly, twenty-two year old brother.  Now I can understand it coming from my brother, but dad?  Come on, what does having a thirty year old daughter say about how old my parents are?  Surely they should be joining in on the old twenty-one again facade?  I try to take it with a pinch of salt.  Banter is a big thing in my family, and we all lovingly slag each other off fairly regularly.  They just want to get a rise out of me, and that’s fine because we all do it.  Then someone made a ‘tick-tock, biological clock’ joke.  I laughed it off, but it got me thinking.  Not about my biological clock (as if) but about how, when my brother eventually turns thirty, I’ll bet the consensus won’t be that he’s getting a bit sad and old, but that he’s maturing nicely.  Men get more ‘distinguished’ as they get older, women apparently just get what’s left.  Men are more respected as they get older; I’ve seen and heard many young men ridiculed for being young, looking young, being the ‘rookie’ or the ‘young buck.’  If a man gets to thirty and is unmarried and without children, he gets to be a bachelor, or, if he’s really lucky, a playboy.  If it’s a woman, then she’s a spinster.  Is the joking, subconsciously, because I’m a woman?

The word ‘subconscious’ is important here, because I don’t believe that either my father or brother are sexist.  Sure, my dad is quite traditional, but he has always been my biggest supporter in terms of what I can achieve and not taking any shit from people.  He instilled in me that I could do whatever I wanted to do, follow whatever path I wanted to in life, as long as it made me happy and I didn’t go to the Dark Side.  He supported me even when he didn’t agree with the decisions I made.  My brother is usually so right on with this sort of stuff that he’s practically an honorary member of the sisterhood.  So why does this feel anti-female?  Do they really feel that deep down, a woman of my age is only truly complete if she is married with children?  As I am neither married, nor with child, does this mean that none of my other achievements count?  There is also the fact that, well, I don’t feel old.  I still feel that stuff like this might come in the future, and that I still have plenty of time to think like this.  Or am I simply being too sensitive (read: girly) about a comment that was possibly intended to be taken exactly as it seemed on the surface?  Just another attempt to wind me up.

Whichever is the correct diagnosis, it’s certainly an ailment that is prevailent in society, not just my immediate family.  There are hundreds of examples of ageism in the world of entertainment, from Arlene Phillips being chucked off ‘Strictly’ in favour of the far less experienced, but undoubtedly younger, Alesha Dixon, to the increasingly sinister attempts of the tabloid darlings to inhibit the aging process by ever-more invasive surgical procedures.  There is hardly a young woman in Britain today who does not know what Botox does, so commonplace is it in our media.

That’s before examining the pity we bestow on female celebrities over thirty, purely because they are not married.  Poor old Jennifer Aniston can’t get her boyfriend to propose, never mind the fact that she is a hugely popular, highly successful multi-millionairess actress with her own production company who far out-earns her partner.  No, we must assume that she is unsatisfied with all of her achievements because she is not happily married with a sprog in each arm.  Poor Cameron Diaz, she can never get a man to commit, never mind the fact that she too is a highly successful, rich actress who has regularly appeared on ‘sexiest woman’ lists and in magazines encouraging women to achieve a body like hers.  If Jennifer was a man, people would assume that she was focussing on her career, and applaud her for that.  If Cameron was a man, she would be called a player, and guess what?  Guys get the kudos for that too!

With these ideas and images so readily available in the world around us, is it any wonder that some of that has filtered back to us ‘normals?’ That maybe, after seeing it in magazines and on TV and film posters that someone could possibly misjudge the actual impression a joke could make?

I’m glad that, as a trained student of crap mags, I count myself as quite savvy about how the media works, so I know that, actually thirty isn’t really all that old at all.  If I still feel the same way that I did when I was nineteen, and still have an abundance of hopes, dreams and plans for the future, then age really is just a number.  In a time where people in the western world are living longer than ever, maybe it’s time for the media to re-define its boundaries of youth.

As a matter of fact, being thirty is much better than being twenty-one. Or eighteen even.  Ok, so I’m not as skinny as I used to be, and I can’t hold my booze as well, but honestly?  I’m happier, more confident, at ease with the person I’ve grown into and with an idea of what I’m doing with my life.  At nineteen, I would refuse to eat before a night out in case I looked bloated.  At twenty-nine, I accept that it’s perfectly acceptable to have a bit of a tummy.  At twenty-one I was learning, but still a bit of an idiot, doing idiot things.  I was still a bit insecure and worried about what people thought of me.  Now, I try to do the right thing and be nice to other people, but I don’t agonise over it if someone doesn’t like the way I go about it.  As long as I can look at myself in the mirror, and say I tried my best, then that’s the most important opinion about me.  I own my own house, have my own money and can now afford to buy a round of drinks in a place that doesn’t do vodka-and-mixer-for-a-pound offers without worrying about whether I have enough money for the taxi home.  Oh, and another thing, now it doesn’t matter that I can’t drive, because I made that decision for me, and I can afford that taxi now.  These are all things I would have given my right arm for when I was twenty-one.

So yes, to conclude, I am quite excited about turning thirty, I think as a woman, it’s a time, particularly in terms of your career, where people start to give you a little more respect (on account of all that experience we must have clocked up, being so old and all). Having always looked a bit younger than my age, and subsequently patronised on occasion; I’m looking forward to being taken a bit more seriously. I’m definitely less prone to worrying about the small things, like if my hair misbehaves or if I’ll get a lumber, and more likely to think about how I can do all of the things I wanted to do when I was sixteen, but couldn’t because I wasn’t old enough.

However, I must say, that to be this happy approaching thirty, I needed to go through all of the other daft stuff when I was sixteen, eighteen, twenty-two, twenty six, twenty nine.  It’s all of the daft stuff that makes you who you are today.  The mistakes are how you learn, the happy memories teach you what you value and hold dear.  My only hope is that I still feel this secure when I turn forty, maybe someone could send me a copy of this in ten year’s time?

Love and marriage, go together like a…?

I’m not ashamed to admit it.  I’ll say it.  Stand up in front of the group and proclaim: “I am in love,” and I have been for quite some time.  It’s quite nice actually.  Not only have I found a man that makes me laugh; puts up with my, let’s say, eccentricities; that I fancy rotten and who shares my outlook on life.  I also have someone to tell about how my day went; someone to take along to functions; someone to sit in my pyjamas in front of the TV with a takeaway with.  Of course, that’s just the day-to-day comforts that come with being part of a serious relationship.  The surface veneer of our life together.

And it is a life together.  We ask each other’s opinions.  We own a home together.  We consult each other on big decisions.  Our life insurance policies pay out to each other.  We go to bed together and only with each other.  In every aspect of our lives we are like a married couple, except we don’t have that all-important bit of paper.  In every aspect other than legally.  In some ways, this is the least important thing.  What is important is that we love and trust each other and want to be together.  In other ways, it is very important indeed.  In theory, if I were in a life-threatening condition in hospital, he would have no say in my treatment.  I am lucky in that my parents fully recognise the status of our relationship, and I am in no doubt, that in the event of such a horrible event, they would give him his rightful place, but not all parents are as forward-thinking as mine.  Not all couples in serious relationships, but who are unmarried, have that peace of mind.

There is a difficulty in defining modern relationships.  Not that relationships really have to be ‘defined’ as such, even though as a species, we seem pretty keen on doing just that.  We want to give our relationships their due, but there is a problem with the current words and phrases we have to describe a partner you’re not married to.  ‘Boyfriend’ seems too casual, too ‘we’re seventeen and we’re dating.’ As Carrie and Big found out, ‘manfriend’ is just silly.  I refuse to refer to my partner as my husband if we’re not married, even though he sometimes playfully refers to me as ‘the wife.’  I think if he gets to do that, I should at least get to wear the big diamond!  I quite often refer to him as my partner.  He doesn’t do this as he thinks it’s a word that suggests a same- sex couple.  I don’t think he is bothered by that, or worries about people thinking he’s gay, just that for him, the word doesn’t quite fit.  It doesn’t get across what he wants to say.  For me, although I use it, when I do, I sometimes feel like I’m trying too hard to make our relationship seem grown-up. I also sometimes say ‘My other half’ but that makes it sound like we aren’t people in our own right. It sounds a bit dusty and old-fashioned too.   The truth is; neither of us has really found a label for our relationship that we’re entirely comfortable with.  That effectively gets across what we want to say about our relationship in a relatively few words.  Is that so much to ask? Language needs to catch up with modern couples.

This might seem like a rather abstract problem to people who have not encountered it.  Some people may be wondering why we really care about putting a label on it, why we don’t just let it be what it is.  The truth is; it comes up more often than you might think. We are both (relatively) young professionals and we both work with- probably a majority- of people who are older than we are and come from a more “traditional” school of thought on this matter.  It is difficult when you want others to take your relationship as seriously as you do when you don’t easily have the words to describe it.  Then there are practical situations.  A while ago I asked for a day off to attend the funeral of one of my partner’s relatives.  A relative I was close to, and wanted to pay my respects to.  There wasn’t a box to tick on the absence request form for relative of boyfriend/manfriend/ partner, but not same-sex/ other half/ but definitely not husband.  When I filled in the form, at the back of my mind was a nagging worry that, at an already difficult time, I was going to have to explain to someone just what exactly my relationship with the departed was, and why I wanted time off to attend the funeral. As it turned out, this was completely unwarranted worry.  My request was granted without the blink of an eye, even though, on paper, personnel seem to not recognise serious relationships other than spouse.

It has become a little easier since we bought the flat together.  However, I still get the feeling that most people see this as a service station on the journey to getting married, rather than a destination in its own right.  Like signing the missives were just a practise run for signing our marriage license.  I know; I’ve had people say this to me.  I’ve watched it happen to others that I know.  Is it really that important to other people if we get married?  Can other people only value your relationship if you are living in wedded bliss?  If we don’t get married, does this mean that we’re not really in it for the long haul?

We also have to remember that there are people out there having fully functioning adult relationships who don’t live together, and it suits them just fine.  I bet they have to deal with even more questions from the Nuptial Nazis than we do!  Why can’t people just let other people’s relationships be?  Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter seem to be doing just fine, so why can’t people believe that the rest of us in “unconventional” (although, really, now it’s not all that unconventional at all is it?) relationships are doing just dandy too?

It seems that your late 20s and 30s are the wedding season of your life.  It feels to me that most of the people I know and love are either married, or planning to be in the not too distant future.  Some days this makes me question why I am not married.  I’ll go on a wee rant for a few days, and give my poor boyfriend/manfriend/ partner, but not same-sex/ other half/ but definitely not husband, you-don’t-have-the-right-to-call-me-your-wife-yet-even-if-you-are-just-joking a hard time about wanting him to propose.  I’ll wonder why we aren’t at least engaged and worry that we won’t ever get married.  Then I’ll start to think about why that would be so bad.  I’ll look at all the planning my seventeen friends or so that are getting married (ok, not quite seventeen, but at last count I think it was around six) and thank some higher power that I don’t have to try to do that on top of a job, running a home and having some semblance of a life that I enjoy.

So why is it that some days I’m desperate to get married and other days it leaves me cold?  After a bit of though I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the actual wedding that scares me.  The marriage itself I think would be rather lovely, just as our life together now is rather lovely (ok, most of the time, no couple are perfect- and who would want to be?)  I don’t think too much would change, we have already made a commitment to each other by signing away our souls to our mortgage lender, and we’ve safely passed the dreaded ‘seven-year-itch.’  We know each other pretty damn well, the trust and mutual support is already there.  The marriage part is the bit I think would come naturally, the rest-of-your-life-bit.  The actual wedding on the other hand; that’s the part of the deal I’m not completely sold on.

Now, I love a party as much as the next person, but your traditional flowers and white dresses wedding isn’t really my thing.  I’m not the kind of girl who really bothers too much about things like that.  I don’t really appreciate fine cuisine and am just as happy with a dinner that costs a tenner a head from Oko or Nando’s, maybe more so, than I would be with a £80 a head dinner in a fancy hotel.  I don’t really like being the centre of attention, although I do love dressing up.  I couldn’t be bothered with wedding politics, who gets invited, who sits where.  Even just the effort of trying to keep everyone else happy in the lead-up to a wedding sounds like an enormous headache.  Despite the mantra of the modern bride and groom being (and God knows I’ve said this to enough brides and grooms-to-be over the last few months) it’s their wedding, so they should just do it the way they want to, it seems that weddings really are for everyone else.  Although the bride and groom plan it, their planning really seems to be about keeping their families and guests happy (why on earth else would anyone offer to foot the bill for an open bar?) even if it means significant expense and stress for themselves.

And before my many soon-to-be-married friends read this, get offended and scratch me off their guest lists, I would like to make it clear that, as a guest, I love weddings!  For all I said in the last paragraph, I really enjoy being at a wedding.  I’m an old romantic, and I’m likely to cry.  What can I say; it makes me happy when I see the people I love that happy.  I relish the planning of the outfit and going all out. I enjoy the food, drinks  and I really appreciate all of the planning you put in to make sure we have a great time, I do, but I’m just not sure it’s for me.  I’ve had a fabulous time at every wedding I’ve ever been to (apart from the one where we had a tray of drinks tipped over us within an hour of being there, but that’s another story!) and I’m worried that I’m coming over a little wedding-grinch-y because I don’t mean to.  I’m just very aware of the fact that I don’t really suit white.

For all my sass in pointing this out, I know, if I’m ever in this position, I’ll be exactly the same.  My ideal wedding would just be the two of us, no fuss, no fretting, just sealing the deal and tying our lives together with that proverbial knot.  But then we think how, actually we want our parents to be there, and our siblings, because family is really important to us.  Then there are the close friends who we would love to share our day with, so they’d need to be there too (gosh, the registry office at Gretna Green is starting to get a bit crowded isn’t it?)  Then there are the other aquaintances who you can’t really not invite, based on some of the prior invitations.  Then the people who invited you to their wedding who you are pretty sure want you to pay them back for the £80 a head they paid for your meal at their wedding (don’t deny it; that thought has run through the minds of some of you, I guarantee it!)  All of a sudden, it’s easy to see how that guest list can spiral out of control, and some wedding politics are going to have to come in to play just to make sure that all of these people can be in the same room together.  I’m starting to panic just thinking about it, so maybe I’ll quite happily be a girlfriend/womanfriend/ partner, but not same-sex/ other half/ but definitely not wife for a while longer, at least until I start to want an excuse to spend a thousand pounds on a dress.

Now, whichever way we look at this, there is one thing that we must remember: it’s actually quite nice to have this ‘problem’ to think about.  Women 60 years ago didn’t even have to think about this.  You were either married or single.  No in-between stage that you didn’t know how to explain to someone you worked with.  Years ago, a woman was defined a success by her relationships; and to have a relationship really meant to be married or engaged to be married.  To be “successful” as a woman, and therefore “happy”, you would be someone’s wife and have a family.  I can imagine that many women keenly felt the loss of their individuality when they became someone’s other half (or in some cases, not even so much as a quarter) yet didn’t really have any outlet to express this.  If you didn’t marry, even if you chose not to marry, people pitied you.  In fact, I think it was widely believed that most unmarried women didn’t actually choose to be, despite their best protestations, they were just left ‘on the shelf’ (what a horrendous phrase).  So to be able to choose how we want our relationships to be, even if we can’t define them, must seem like a luxury to women, who, due to convention, never had that freedom.

Now women have broken free from this, and I suppose, as problems go, this is one I would rather deal with than having no choice in the matter at all.