Tag Archives: Women’s rights

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.


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.


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?


Is this what we’ve stooped to?

Modern technology is a wonderful thing isn’t it?  With the development of smart phones, affordable laptops and high speed broadband, people can communicate with each other at the click of a button, in seconds.  People can create their own media, and publish it, for free, to a potential audience of millions.  There was a point in my lifetime when we didn’t have internet access in my house, and none of us had a mobile phone, but I honestly can’t remember what it was like so great has the impact of these developments been on my existence.

However, with the multitudinous advantages of modern communications technology, there is inevitably a dark side.  Messages can be sent speedily.  So speedily that a message written in anger, can be sent in haste, and then it’s too late to take back what was said.  Faceless contact means that people can be perhaps more cruel to each other, if only because they can’t see the direct consequences.  And that audience of millions?  Well they see everything.  Even the things you don’t want them too.

As a result of this, an inexcusable trend has bred amongst some of the more unsavoury members of society: ‘revenge porn’.  For those of you who don’t know, ‘revenge porn’ is when a jilted partner publishes intimate photographs or video clips of their ex-lover online.  Most recently brought to the public consciousness by N-Dubz’s Tulisa Contostavlos, who suffered the shame of a sex tape made several years previously being posted on the internet.  Although this is probably the most-well known case in the UK, website IsAnyoneUp.com caused considerable controversy in the US.  Thankfully now shut down, the owner of this site unashamedly coined in by encouraging dumpees to send in naked photographs of their ex-partners as a means of revenge.  Thousands of people suffered the indignity of this before owner Hunter Moore (who was previously defiant in his dismissal of the immoral  nature of his website) decided to shut the site down, allegedly because of the volume of submissions featuring indecent photographs of minors.

Although the death of this site is certainly a step in the right direction, sadly, it is not the only means for the virus to spread.  Facebook, Twitter and even email and text can all be utilised by scumbags to carry out their seedy agenda.  These sites can be contacted and content removed, but often by then the damage has been done.  There needs to be a greater deterrent in the first place to prevent idiots from contemplating this course of action.

It may be an extension of the excuse of many a cyberbully; they just didn’t think about how far it could spread, how many people might see it and the damage that might be done.  This  attitude simply isn’t good enough.  Anyone who would think that this might be an acceptablecourse of  action clearly has no respect for, and probably never had any respect for the other person.  And although I acknowledge that men can suffer from this too, like many points on the scale of sexual violence, the female victims outnumber the male.

This isn’t just a feminist issue; this is a human rights issue.  No-one would think that it was acceptable to run up to a woman in the street, take all of her clothes off and engage in sexual activity right there and then in front of anyone who just happened to be around.  No one would think this was funny.  And here’s the thing.  This so called ‘revenge porn’ is worse than this ridiculous scenario.  So much worse.  The potential audience for this sort of thing is, well, anyone who has access to the internet.  So millions then.  Maybe even hundreds of millions.  In the absurd scenario suggested, the humiliation would last for a period of time, but then it would end.  When this is online, the degradation is repeated every time someone else views the clip.  If that wasn’t bad enough, then the final kick in the teeth is the potentially infinite time that this clip could be available.  This.  Is.  Not.  Right.

The inevitable question that springs from this is ‘is it the person who took the photo’s fault?’  Sending sexy texts to partners is not in itself wrong.  It’s just an extension of the naked polaroid and saucy letter of the past.  In fact, I would speculate that many a modern relationship (well, since the devlopment of the decent camera phone anyway) would have failed to get off the ground without the fuel of a little sexting.  When considering whether a specific sexual behaviour is wrong or not, I tend to try not to judge so long as it involves consenting adults only, and is private apart from those involved. I believe that sexting, as long as it involves consenting partners and is  reserved for the eyes of the recipient only, is in itself relatively harmless, not for me (I don’t even like looking at photographs of myself fully clothed never mind naked.  I’d never manage to take a shot I was happy with!) but good fun for some.  However, when these fundamental rules are broken, that’s when I have a problem with it.

No one can argue that the victims themselves must take some responsibility, after all, most of them chose to take the photographs or make the film clip (and for those that didn’t, well their attackers should be dealt with in the same manner as a rapist would in my humble opinion.)  However, I’m sure that the vast majority, had they known that these images would go public, would never have made them in the first place.  They were made and sent under an understanding of trust and confidentiality, and the people who break that, no matter how badly they’ve been dumped, well they’re just bad people.  The idea that victims somehow ‘deserve’ these images to be made public is an extension of that grubby old chestnut that women who wear revealing clothes are ‘asking for it.’

Whichever way you look at it, this is just another form of bullying.  Like many bullies, its perpetrators claim that they thought it would be funny; that it was just a laugh, to embarrass their victim a bit and punish them for breaking up with them.  I can guarantee their victims don’t feel that way, and I’m not sure that I ever really believe that line.  It’s about power and control; it’s another, mutated form of sexual abuse.

Those who engage in this despicable act should be punished in the same way that other sex offenders are.  Because that is exactly what they are.  Sex offenders.  Someone who uses sex as a weapon to hurt someone else, to humiliate, to degrade and to exert power over.  No one should attempt to quantify ‘how bad’ a sexual assault is.  As a victim of a sexually motivated assault I can tell you that there is little else more infuriating than people telling you that you were lucky, just because you were not raped or seriously injured.  I don’t consider myself lucky as a result of that experience, and I’m sure women who have suffered this form of ‘virtual’ assault don’t consider themselves lucky either.  Just because there was no physical assault does not mean that these women have not endured pain, distress and torment. Everyone who has suffered this should not have.

Some might argue that this is not comparable to a physical sexual assault, yet I would argue that it stems from the same murky motivation, to exert power, to feel like you have control.  Even though the victims of this crime may not have endured physical suffering, I’m sure no one would like to suggest that their emotional and mental suffering was ‘not as bad as it could have been.’  Every woman who suffers a crime such as these deserves our sympathy and support, irrespective of what her attacker, or attackers may contend.

That this is allowed to continue in a modern civilised society is a mockery of women’s rights.  Although progress is being made in this area, there is still a long road ahead.  Yes, in the year to March 2011, 71% of rape cases which went to court ended in conviction.  However, this only accounted for 24% of all reported cases.[i]  If women and men are to have truly equal standing, this issue needs to be dealt with more seriously.  The law needs to evolve in line with technology in order to keep up with the crimes being committed.  Again, some progress is being made with regards to this.  In April this year, 12 people were arrested in connection with the online naming and abuse of the victim in a high profile rape case.[ii]  This is a massive step forward in the fight against the use of online media to sexually degrade women.  A massive step, but nevertheless only the start of the journey.

For what it’s worth, I think Tulisa’s handling of the situation was spot on.  I’m sure the person who released the tape was looking to disgrace her, make her look like a slut, but in fact, it had a different effect.  It made a lot of people angry on her behalf.  She was betrayed, and because it was so public it made her seem especially vulnerable.  It made people aware of the issue and as a result, more people are talking about it.  In the right way.


[i] BBC, ‘Rape Crime Figure Differences Revealed’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14844985, 9 September 2011

[ii] Charles, M. ‘Confessions of an Internet Troll’ Glamour  July 2012