Tuesday, 29 July 2014

You Dick

     So that was me being polite. Restrained. Thoughtful. Here’s where it’s all going to get a bit more visceral, and sweary and rantblogging because for fuck’s sake, what is wrong with people like that? Look, here.
Apparently, being dateraped isn’t the same as being raped at knifepoint. Perhaps we should just come up with a sliding scale of severity of rape, shall we? Decide who has it worst. I can’t lay claim to being as wonderfully clever and academic as the sainted Dawkins, but I can make a fair stab at guessing that from his point of view, he’d agree with George Galloway that once you’re in bed with someone, consent is no longer an issue, so that’s the ‘least bad’ form. So Julian Assange can stop gibbering away in the Ecuadorean embassy, because basically, those women in Sweden are a pair of troublemakers, nothing more.

     Then date rape – not a big deal, apparently. It’s the ‘violent’ rape at knifepoint that’s really bad. That’s good to know. I think I get it. It’s not the fear, it’s not the horror of the situation, it’s not the fact that you are being violated, it’s not the memories, it’s not how it will fuck you up for years to come, it’s not that you’ll get triggered, sometimes in the most terrifying and unexpected ways, it’s none of that, no. It’s nothing to do with your feelings, how you will struggle to trust people, how you will blame yourself, how you will think that other people blame you. It’s not the ‘what ifs’ that will keep you awake. It’s not the times people ask you why you didn’t scream, or fight back. It’s not the times you feel ashamed when you enjoy having sex, when you feel sickened that you’re attracted to someone. It’s not when you doubt every single thing about yourself, and believe that you are as worthless as that man made you feel. It’s not the anxiety that eats away inside you. It’s not how you fuck up relationships because you can’t cope. It’s not how you feel. It’s not about you.

     It’s about ranking things. Neatly ticking off little boxes. Were there threats? Violence? How the fuck can anyone think like that? How you dispassionately decide that something you know nothing about, nothing of the after effects, nothing of the emotional trauma, how can you say ‘X is bad. But Y is worse.’ It’s not that simple. Truly. I wish it fucking was. But there’s no way to measure up how someone is left feeling. And then to compound the arrogance, the lack of empathy, the sheer fucking nastiness of telling rape victims that they need to learn how to think. Well, how about you listen first? How about you hear what people are telling you? That it’s not just how/where/when you’re raped. It’s what it does to you. But perhaps that’s a bit too complicated for A Clever Person to understand. I guess for some, you reach a level of intelligence where emotions are just pesky things that the thickos, the hysterics, the great unwashed indulge in. Whereas Dick can instead sit on high and pronounce upon issues like rape. I can almost picture him with his gavel, weighing it all up and then handing down his sentence. And if we dare to question the reasoning, we should be so very ashamed. And learn how to think, apparently.

     Tell you what, Dick. I’ll learn how to think. You learn how to fucking feel. Then get back to me.

You do not speak for me

     You do not speak for me, Professor Dawkins. You do not speak for me. Rape is rape. There are no sliding scales involved. One does not simply grade the levels of violence or threat involved to determine who has suffered most. There is no graph to determine the level of harm done.

     You do not speak for me, Professor Dawkins. You have no authority to determine my experience. You have no right to claim your belief is worth more than my knowledge. You offer your opinion, Professor Dawkins. I can offer to explain to you my life. Yet I know this is futile, as you will not listen to me. You will tell me I do not 'get it'.

     You do not speak for me, Professor Dawkins. I am a victim of rape. Shall I tell you this again? I was raped, Professor Dawkins. I shall not share with you the details. I was raped, like countless other women and girls. There was no knife. I was not threatened. I was physically harmed, but not beaten. There was no external bruising or blood. Does this mean it was not a serious rape, Professor Dawkins?

     You do not speak for me, Professor Dawkins. You cannot assert that your understanding of something you have no experience of somehow makes you better qualified to judge on the severity of rape. All rape is violence, Professor Dawkins. It is a violation, an attack, an act of destruction. It is not a theft. It is not ‘taking advantage’. It is violence, Professor Dawkins.

     You do not speak for me, Professor Dawkins. You betray how little you think of rape victims when you accuse us of ‘not getting it’. We do get it, Professor Dawkins. Our understanding of what rape is, how it changes us, how we live our lives afterwards. This may be simply word games, pedantry, semantics to you. You may take enjoyment in believing you are being clever. You may wish to elevate your supporters by praising them for ‘getting it’. You do not speak for me.

     You do not speak for me, Professor Dawkins.  There is nothing mild about rape, whatever the circumstances. One is not ‘merely’ raped by a partner, as opposed to ‘violently’ raped by a knife wielding stranger. In both situations, there is a rapist. In both situations, rape occurs. In the aftermath of rape, there is a victim. A victim who has to make sense of what has happened to her. Her experience is not to be plotted, graded, weighed up by you, or anyone else, Professor Dawkins. You do not speak for her. You do not speak for me.

Monday, 21 July 2014

In every home a heartache

     I used to spend a lot of time on the bus. About six hours a week. Every Friday, after school, down to Norwich bus station, pay £7.10 for my return ticket on the 97 bus, clamber aboard the ancient, smelly, sticky-floored double decker with scratchy seats, and find my place at the back of the top deck. Reading or writing made me feel sick on that two and a half hour journey, so instead I would watch the people around me. Usually I’d end up getting drawn into a conversation with someone, and because I was bored and a teenager, I’d make up some outlandish story about myself.

     I was studying Creative Writing at UEA. I was South African (my accent was impeccable; I can still say ‘chull aht rum’ with the best of them). I was 19 (actually I was between 14-18). I was visiting friends. I was about to go backpacking around the world. I was an actress (hmm…). I didn’t make up these stories to make strangers look stupid (although I undoubtedly was a massive idiot myself). I did it because I was bored, I wanted to fill the time, and simply, because I loved it. I loved not knowing what character I would create that afternoon. I loved thinking on my feet and pencilling a rough outline of a person, before filling in the little details and lies that created a new persona. And once the person I was talking to had got off the bus (few people travelled as far I did) I’d lose myself in thoughts of this shadowy female I’d made up.

     Sometimes though, I wouldn’t fall into conversation. On those journeys instead, I’d watch the people around me, wondering what combination of events had meant that their destiny was to be on the same uncomfortable bus as I was. Sometimes it was obvious. The kids from out in the sticks on their way home after a day at City College. The two women who’d gone shopping ‘up the city’ for the day. The mum and toddler chatting about their visit to Nan. But for everyone I could identify, there would be mysteries, people who weren’t so easy to read. The crying girl, staring out of the window. The man in a smart suit, reading papers on top of his briefcase. The young couple. What was going on in their lives?

     Same with the houses. The 97 used to wind and wend in and out of every village that studs the A47 as it heads west, every town too. In places like Dereham and Swaffham, it would squeeze down narrow streets, onto market squares now long redundant, before picking up pace again on housing estates. I’d gaze out of the windows at the identikit 1980s 3 bedroomed  red brick houses and wonder about the people who lived in them, their lives, their stories, their secret heartaches, their troubles, the pleasures that gave them joy. Who could really know what went on once the front door was closed?

     Think of your own life. Think of all the complexities, the battles, the hurts, the laughter. We only ever reveal a fraction of that to the outside world. When I'm logged out of twitter, when the door is locked, when the three Blondies are in bed, or at work or school... Who knows the innermost workings of my head, or yours? Who knows what's really going on in other peoples lives? I don't, but I want to. I want to watch every human life and understand it, why we do the things we do, feel the way we do, break down the way we do.

       I don’t go on the bus so much these days. No need or wish to visit the Fens. So I content myself instead with people in cafes, pubs, on the streets, picking up less on what people are saying, and more on what they’re unknowingly telling me. The nervous movements. The forced laughter. The protective body language.
And from that, I can build up a picture of who they really are. Know the secrets behind the smiles. In every home a heartache.

Just words

     It’s just words. Just words on a screen, on a page, in our heads. Just words. That’s what people say isn’t it? Stupid annoying playground chanting of ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!’

     What a load of nonsense. Complete and utter tosh. If I say to you ‘Wow! You look lovely today!’ you’ll smile, and pshaw, and make a dismissive hand gesture. But it’ll make you feel happy. Equally, if a teenage boy says to a teenage girl one Tuesday morning in geography ‘You look FATTER and UGLIER than normal today, Lucy’ then those words will stay with their recipient for ooh, a good twenty years at least.

     They’re just words, only words, just consonants and vowels strung together, twisting and sliding around one another to make sounds, to communicate to one another. Just words. If you really believe that, then tell me this, honestly. Have you ever been moved to tears by a book? A film? A song? By things that people have said to you? By things you’ve read online? By a conversation? And what was it that made you cry? Was it the light around you? Was it because you got cramp in your left foot? Or was it the words?

     Just words. People don’t always realise their power. A chance remark, an overheard conversation, a tweet not directed at you. But you see it, and your mood changes. It stops being just words. It hits you with full force, squarely in the stomach, and leaves you reeling. Sometimes the effect is deliberate. Death scenes, poetry, mawkish love songs, abuse. But very often the writer, speaker, singer may not have intended it to make you feel that way at all. They may just have been making an observation about something. They may not have been directing their words at you. They may have chosen the wrong word. But still. It stops being just words.

     Just words. It never is. It’s never just words. If that were true, then why do we encourage our children to speak? If it’s just words, why do we still communicate in the vast number of ways we do? If it’s just words, why do words stay with us? Why does our vocabulary shape how we see the world, and the world sees us? The words I see you using tell me more about you than merely the idea you are conveying. It tells me who you are. Or perhaps, who you’d like to be. Who you would like me to think of you as being.

     Just words. If that were true, why do we read for pleasure? Why do we have conversations about anything that isn’t purely functional? Why do we sing, why do we make jokes, why do we shout? Why do we write? We take the words and we use them, perhaps too much, perhaps too little.

     We build walls around ourselves with words. We interpret the world around us, navigating our way along with the limited tools of 26 letters and a handful of punctuation. It’s not just words. It’s never just words. It’s more than words.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The Darker Arts of Child Wrangling

     Some days, not every day, but some days, The Blondies are absolute bastards. There. I’ve said it. They bicker, they squabble, they nitpick, they irritate annoy annoy irritate each other to infuriated screeching meltdowns and then there are furious tears (The Boy) or banshee-esque wailing (The Girl) and one exasperated mother (me). They especially like to fall into petty, mindless, kvetching at each other when we’re out and about, so that passersby are treated to the sight of it too. It’s not just that they get into these snarky, snippy little exchanges; it’s the fact that nothing bloody stops them once they get going.

     Telling off doesn’t work.

      Asking nicely doesn’t work.

     Pleading doesn’t work.

     Appealing to their better nature (ha!) doesn’t work.

     Shouting doesn’t work.

     Bribery doesn’t work.

     Muttering doesn’t work.

     Hissing at them doesn’t work.

     Separating them doesn’t work (see Proverbs 26:11)

     Threatening them with direr consequences doesn’t work.

     But humiliation… Humiliation works. Every. Single. Time.

     And I can teach you the darker arts of child humiliation, dear reader. Follow…

     Essentially, what you’re relying on is that their feeling of mortification is more heightened than yours. You have to behave in such a way that they want the ground to open up and swallow them down without a burp. It’s the only way to get them to stop sniping away at each other. Unfortunately, you have to make sacrifices too.

     You’re going to have to hang your dignity on a peg, close the door of the wardrobe, leave the room, walk out of the house, set the building on fire, and then scatter the ashes at sea. You can’t afford to be halfhearted about this. You’re going to have to throw yourself into it, and be completely convincing.

      You have to be loud. I said LOUD. No, LOUDER. LOUDER. That’s better. And then you have to behave in a way that draws as much attention to yourself as possible. Your decision as to how you do this. My weapon of choice is singing. And dancing. So, for  example, last week, The Blondies were  acting up on the way home, The Boy was doing some kind of niggling at The Girl who was squealing aggravatingly, so The Boy was shouting at her, so she was refusing to take another step. Next to us was a row of parked cars, the drivers and passengers quietly minding their own business, waiting to pick their children up from school…


     I have quite a load voice when required, and so my serenading didn’t go unnoticed. Especially because I was accompanying it with a very energetic dance routine that relied quite heavily on twirling round with arms outstretched, a bit like Julie Andrews at the start of Sound of Music (incidentally, that’s another good song to use. The level of volume required for ‘The HILLLLLS are ALIIIIIIVE’ means I don’t have to go much further than the first line).

     And all around me, a little miracle unfolded on the streets of NR2. Silence from The Blondies. Their irritate annoy annoy irritate mood evaporated, and instead, they wordlessly took hold of my hands, and continued the walk home.

     Like I said, you really have to make your children believe that you are capable and committed enough to maintain this for the rest of their natural lives. Under no circumstances can you tone it down when heads snap round to look at the madwoman belting out the Banana Boat Song. You have to give the performance of your life. Take that song, and make it your own, just like they say on talent shows.
      It’s a sacrifice, sure. People will notice you behaving like a stage school brat. But in my case, although I am shy, an introvert, a loner (or ‘lone wolf’ as The Boy insists on saying), I also don’t give a toss what people think of me. I’d rather have people stare than endure any more sodding bickering.

     You can do other things of course. Performing a silent foxtrot in the aisles of Sainsbury’s works quite well. Or trying on ever larger hats in a department store and posing in exaggerated fashion. You can also try being stupidly over affectionate with them, slobbering wet kisses and endearments over them. Usually has the same result.

     The joy of it is that it cheers me up and it stops them from getting us into a Mexican standoff of annoyance. But best of all, absolutely the best thing, is what I say when they start giggling after I’ve stopped making a twat of myself.

     ‘I can’t wait until you two are teenagers. I am going to have so much FUN.’

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Vile Bodies

     We've been out for dinner, and are ambling slowly home, Alistair, The Blondies, and I. Alistair spots a white Range Rover, nudges The Boy and...

     ‘See that? That’s a girl’s car, that is.’ A snort.

     ‘Why? Do you drive it with your vagina?’



     The Blondies are falling about laughing, Alistair is looking outraged, and I’m grinning. ‘I didn’t know a penis disqualifies you from owning certain types of car.’  Alistair shoots me a look of panicked ‘Not in front of The Blondies!’ fear. Because I’m a contrary bastard, I reply. ‘Penis. Vagina.’ I get a warning glance in return. ‘PEE-NISSS. VAG-IIINA.’

     ‘They’re just words, Daddy.’ The Boy.

     ‘Yes, I know, but…’

     ‘They’re not swears, Daddy.’ The Girl.
     ‘No, of course not, I…’ Alistair is floundering. Caught out by my lefty liberal permissiveness which means nothing’s off limits for The Blondies. His mouth flaps open a few times, but he’s no match for us. I take pity on him, and challenge The Blondies to a race home.

     Really, nothing is off limits when we talk. It’s led to some tricky conversations at times (which I shall not be repeating for your amusement, sorry), but it means that penis and vagina aren’t words that are generally giggled at.  Apart from when I’m titting about, obviously. And it’s not just words, either. It’s being comfortable with their bodies too.

     After years of fretting, I’m mildly confident in my (stretchmarked, withered, wobbly) skin. If the surrounding households aren’t at home, I’m happy to drift about the garden in only bikini bottoms and sunglasses (and then have to dart inside when Mr Nice Neighbour calls ‘hello!’ over the fence). And The Blondies are much the same. I find myself asking The Girl ‘What happened to your clothes?’ more often than I thought was possible. And last night, The Boy passed me on the stairs, arms full of Star Wars figures, en route to the bath, naked as the day he was born, and not showing the slightest sign of being self-conscious.

     It’s made me quite proud. Because as far back as I can remember, I was mortified by my body. No skipping around the house in just my pants, no way. I still cringe at the memory of having to sit on swimming pool steps, in the nuddy, on a family holiday when I was aged four. Which is ridiculous, because my parents were naturists and used to drag us off to Cap d’Agde, and Formentera so they could cause maximum awkwardness by sunbathing naked. Negotiations over spending money were always conducted with my eyes determinedly fixed on the far horizon. The Third Law of Parenting – your child will rebel against the things you hold most dear – held true and strong.

     So apart from the garden, I’ve never sunbathed topless. I won’t even sit in my bikini in public. Not because I worry about being ogled (I’ve had two kids, so the likely reaction to any public unveiling is more likely to be horror and mass vomiting), but because I’m just not comfortable with people I don’t know seeing my body. Yet I’m not a prude, or have hang ups about being naked. I sleep naked, always have done. I’m matter of fact with The Blondies about things. And in return, they seem fairly relaxed too, about their bodies, my body, Alistair’s body (although the ‘Have you seen Daddy’s willy? No, but Mum, have you SEEN it? It’s MASSIVE!’ conversation still causes my toes to curl).

     I was quite chuffed about how easy going they were about bodies. Yep. Totally got this parenting thing SORTED. They don’t have any of the hang ups I had when I was even younger than they are now. Obviously, there are still a lot of years to come, and I know the pressures of teenagehood, especially for girls. But still. Doing alright so far.

     Remind me again of the First Law of Parenting? Oh yes. Even when you are right, you will be wrong.

     The Boy brought home a letter from school last week. Year 4 are starting Sex Education, if you are Victorian Dad, you have the option of withdrawing your child from these lessons… Standard stuff. I mentioned it on the way home. Instantly, The Boy’s shoulders shot up to his ears, his chin tucked into his neck, he scowled furiously and didn’t answer.

     ‘The Boy? Did you hear me?’


     ‘So you’re starting sex education soon? Do you know what sort of thing you’ll be learning about?’ Helpful, interested, bright tone of voice.


     ‘Sorry darling, what did you say?’

     ‘I don’t want to go to the lessons.’ The Boy muttered into his chest.

      ‘Why? Are you worried it’ll be a bit embarrassing, talking about that kind of thing with everyone else?’ I was a bit puzzled, but he is getting older, more aware of girls…
     ‘No, because it’s DISGUSTING!’ A thought occurred to him, and he brightened up. ‘Can I be ill that day?’

     So if someone, anyone, can explain to me how The Boy will happily skip around the garden wearing nothing but a bucket on his head, how he’ll wander into the bathroom for a chat when I’m having a shower, how he’ll fidget and say he’s got an itchy scrotum… All that, but having puberty (which he already knows about) explained again to him in a classroom… that’s ‘DISGUSTING’?

     I thought I’d got it right. But I forgot. A parent’s place is in the wrong.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Not all men

     Ok, men. We need to talk. It seems to me that you broadly fall into three categories. Twats, ‘Not all men’ men, and decent blokes. Decent blokes, you can go now, but I need you to come back in about five minutes, ok? Most of this won’t be relevant to you.

     Right. Twats. I’m going to be blunt, because that seems the only way to get through to you. Fuck. Off. Don’t approach me in a pub, because I’m a woman on my own. Don’t try to read my notebook when I go to the loo. Don’t nick my phone and refuse to give it back until I give you my number. Don’t hassle me with texts and late night phone calls. Don’t lean out of your car windows and wink, gesture, or shout at me. Don’t grope me. I have a boyfriend, we’ve been together for fifteen years, I’m not interested, ok? And yes, it applies to all women, not just me, if you’re trying to be clever about it. We’re just getting on with our lives. We don’t need, want, or welcome your approval, your judgement, or your attention. So FUCK OFF.

     Right. That’s that cleared up. Now the trickier part. The ‘not all men’ men. Back when I wrote ‘You don’t get it’ I had some comments that made me just about incandescent with age (yeah, quelle surprise…). One of those was from a man. Who read about a lifetime of harassment and said ‘Some men get it. I had unwelcome female attention. Once.’

     And that response really isn’t all that unusual. It’s known as ‘not all men’. A woman recounts an unpleasant experience of male attention. And rather than respond to what she’s telling them, a man will pipe up with ‘Not all men are like that.’ It’s their way of trying to say ‘Hey, I’m a Nice Guy! Don’t blame me for what he did!’

     To which the only possible response is ‘Excuse me? Were you listening to what I told you? Your response to some bloke being an arsehole is to tell me that YOU’RE a Nice Guy?’ Not ‘God, I’m so sorry that happened to you.’ Not ‘Fucking hell, some blokes are awful.’ Not ‘I just can’t understand why some men behave like that.’ But ‘Not all men!’

     When you ‘not all men’ you’re belittling, you’re dismissing, you’re almost disbelieving. You’re saying ‘Not all men’ do this, so this experience is unusual, a blip, an aberration. Guess what? It’s not. It’s my life. I live it. I experience a lot of rubbish. I might not experience all men, but I do seem to come across plenty of twats.

     I know it’s not all men. I. KNOW. I have a boyfriend, a father, two brothers, male friends. I KNOW IT’S NOT ALL MEN. But it is some men. Too many men. Too many men viewing women as public property. Too many men forcing women to interact with them when they don’t want to. Too many men thinking that they get to dictate what experiences women have. Too many men. Not all men. Some men. Not all men. But it’s still too many. And instead of becoming defensive and cross when women talk about some men, perhaps you should think about what these women are telling you. Perhaps you should realise it’s some men, instead of being offended and needing to establish you’re a Nice Guy.

     And some women should listen up too. Just because you’ve not had the same experiences as me, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. And no, I don’t write about these things to stealthboast about how attractive I am, and have to beat men off with a shitty stick. I write about them because this is my life. And I only ever get hassled when I’m on my own. Never with other people. Because the twats see a woman on her own as vulnerable and easy prey. It's not because I'm attractive (I have a massive face for a start). It's because some men think they have the right to impose themselves on all women. And I’ve had enough.

      And Decent Men, can you come back in now please? Right. You’re decent blokes, aren’t you? I mean, I like you. I like you very much. When you hear about bad things done by some men, you don’t instinctively preface your response with ‘Not all men’. You listen, you’re horrified, you express outrage on our behalf. But. Sometimes you let yourselves down a little. When you ask women if we’re flattered by the attention. When you make jokey responses to women talking seriously. When a woman tells you about being hassled, and you ask ‘Why didn’t you just tell him to fuck off?’ Shall I explain?

     Firstly, it’s not her fault she attracted the attention, and the blame lies with the twat, not her. Perhaps she didn’t want make a scene. Perhaps she didn’t want to cause a fuss. Perhaps she wasn’t sure if she was overreacting by feeling threatened. Perhaps she was worried that if she did tell the twat to fuck off, he might turn nasty. Perhaps she felt intimidated by a bigger, stronger stranger. But asking her about her behaviour isn’t helpful, and reinforces the idea that she is in some way to blame. She isn’t.

     That’s point  1. Point 2. When you see another man ‘Not all men’ing, CHALLENGE HIM. Because, Decent Blokes, it gets wearying, being told that we think a certain way because we own a vagina. Last time I checked, I think with my brain. It’d be nice if the Decent Blokes – and I think you’re probably a silent majority – could wade into the discussion every now and then. And if you’re not sure what to say, then say so. We’ll value your honesty. Let the ‘not all men’ men know that it’s not just women that feel like this. That it’s possible to have a ball sack and not feel the need to automatically defend other penis owners all the time. Truly.

     And to the men who responded to me with ‘How was Friday your fault? FFS!’ I kiss you on both cheeks. YOU are the Decent Blokes. I am proud to know you and have you as my friends.

     Now get out there and prove that not all men are ‘not all men’ men.