Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Oh no! Not another post about street harassment.

Yes, another post about street harassment, because sometimes when it happens you need to write it out. 

This year I decided to start ballet again after a long hiatus. It was my second class and the teacher told me I should come along to the intermediate class as well as the beginners. I was feeling buoyant. I was so happy! I’d found myself as a dancer again, and, damn it, I was good at it. I had exercise-related endorphins cruising through my bloodstream. It was great, I felt great – I felt talented and strong and muscular. 

Then I walked into Bedminster Asda and a drunk man eating chicken in the vestibule made a sexually obscene comment at me as I went by. 

And, just like that, I didn’t feel great and talented and strong and muscular anymore. I felt small and angry and weak and uncomfortable. 

Why this one? Why did this one bother me so much – more than the drunk guy on the street the other week shouting after me when I ignored him, or the school kids following me to the bus stop going on about my arse? 

Maybe it was because the comment was particularly sexually aggressive. Maybe it was because I knew I had to walk back out the shop, past him again, and he would repeat the harassment. Which, of course, he did. 

But mostly because it was that crash from feeling good, from feeling strong, from revelling in my own subjectivity, to being forced into being object again. 

That’s the thing about street harassment. 

Street harassment is a reminder that no matter how great we feel, no matter how strong and powerful we feel, we are still women living in a patriarchal society. It’s a reminder that no matter how successful you feel, a drunk man eating chicken in Asda can still try and reduce you. It’s a reminder not to let your guard down, not to forget to be a little bit, just a little bit, afraid.  

I wasn’t feeling afraid. I was feeling happy and strong and powerful. I’d let my guard down. I’d forgotten to look out for the man on the street. And then, BAM! Just like that. I was reminded. 

And that’s what hurts. That’s what drags you down. That feeling that you can’t escape being a woman in patriarchal society. The feeling that some man can always reduce you to an object. The reminder that the streets don’t belong to you in the way they belong to men. That as a woman in public, you are always somehow always on display and a man can always drag you down. 

I don’t want to bring everything back to Trump, although that seems to be where my mind frequently goes at the moment. But it’s awful enough to know that as a woman in public you are a target for harassment without being forced to remember that the most powerful man in the world legitimises this kind of violent, degrading misogyny. 

Sometimes you can laugh it off. Sometimes you can send a witty tweet, a shrug and a smile and turn it into a joke. 

And sometimes you can’t. 

Sometimes it’s just too exhausting. To remember, week in, week out, what your status is in this society. Sometimes it’s just too exhausting to pull yourself up, to fight back, to claim your space back as your own space

And that’s how street harassment works. That’s why it still works. 

Because no matter how strong and successful you feel, a drunk man eating chicken in a supermarket can still reduce you to feeling like shit. He can still remind you that you are a woman living in patriarchal society, and the streets don’t belong to you in the way they belong to him. 

Monday, 16 January 2017

Trump, Gove and the grotesque glitz of the man-cave

So the Times and Gove trumped (sorry, I can’t help it) other media outlets and sitting politicians to be the first UK newspaper and MP to interview the President Elect. 

(an aside: on New Year’s Day I woke up with an overwhelming sense of depression because so long as it was 2016, Trump wouldn’t be President until next year. Now it is next year and he’ll be President this week. Shit)

Amidst the blithering and blathering, the decision to make his son-in-law Middle East Peace Envoy, the refusal to call refugees by their name and instead call them ‘illegals’, the claim that Scottish ancestry made him stingy… it was this phrase of Gove’s that stood out for me:

glitzy golden man-cave

I know there are more important things in the interview which better political brains than mine will deal with. 

But. 

Glitzy golden man-cave

I’ve become increasingly concerned with the creeping normalisation of fascism over the past seven months. And somehow, this phrase really hit that nerve for me.

Partly it’s the infantilising. Partly it’s the reducing of grotesque wealth and inequality showcased by golden elevators and chandeliers and billions of undeserved inherited dollars into a man-cave. Partly it’s the idea of a man-cave itself – a vomit-inducing construct where men can escape women and be left alone in a pre-feminist space. All of it put together aims to soften the dangerous immaturity, grotesque wealth and violent sexism of Donald Trump. 

And that’s not okay. 

Let’s take the latter point. The man-cave, as I say, is the idea that men need space away from women and our annoying demands and our shrill voices and our bloody wombs. A space where they can be men and not be bothered by the political correctness feminism so annoyingly pushes upon them. A man-cave for cave-men. Yeah. Where men can be blokes. Top bantz. Lads R Us. 

As things are going, Trump’s whole political establishment is one big man-cave. He’s promoted man after man after man – multiple men who have had domestic abuse allegations made against them. Trump himself has, of course, been accused of sexual assault and has  boasted about committing sexual assault. So far, his incoming administration has threatened legislation that protects women’s bodily autonomy. Meanwhile, his attitude towards women including his wife proves what little respect he has for us. 

So we shouldn’t be softening Trump’s exclusion and treatment of women with phrases like ‘man-cave’. We should be making a loud, a very loud, noise about a man who treats women like objects and excludes us from power. Who doesn’t respect women as equals. Who uses and assaults women. And who enacts policies that directly threaten women’s freedoms and equality. 

Similarly we shouldn’t be trying to soften the ugly reality of Trump’s huge wealth, his tendency towards nepotism, and his plans to entrench economic inequality in the USA, by gasping in awe at all the glitz and gold. This is a man who inherited vast amounts of money which he then spent on a grim display of tasteless wealth, who refuses to publish his tax returns, who boasted that avoiding federal taxes made him smart, and who is promising to cut taxes for the wealthy like him. This is a man who is playing fast and loose with the Constitution when he divests his companies to his sons. This is a man accused of ill-treatment of the staff that made him rich. 

I know we have to accept the election result and that the UK has to work in a world where Trump is President. But I can’t stop feeling angry at the way we are bending over backwards to ignore his dangerous racism and sexism, and instead are softening it with bullshit terms like ‘man-cave’. From this interview where his use of the world ‘illegals’ instead of ‘refugees’ goes unchallenged, to Theresa May falsely claiming that he apologised for his sexual assault comments (and actions, come on!), nothing is achieved by pretending that Trump is anything but a violently misogynistic and racist man who came to power on the boasts of violent misogyny and racism. 

We don’t have to refuse to challenge him on that. We don’t have to pretend that he apologised for groping women’s genitals or shrug as if it no longer matters that he wants to ban Muslims from America, or smile along with him as he calls those fleeing from war and persecution ‘illegals’. 

Because when we do this, we normalise his actions. We normalise his language. We normalise fascism and violence. 

When we don’t challenge Trump on his bullshit, we send a message that we think violent misogyny and racism is okay. That it’s acceptable. 

So I’m not saying that May shouldn’t go and meet him. I get that she has to. But I am saying that she should hold him to account, and not excuse or diminish his groping of women. 

And I’m not saying that the Times shouldn’t interview him. Of course they should. I am saying that they should send a journalist to do it, and one who will hold him to account. 

We cannot smile and nod and give a Fonz-style thumbs up to a man who boasts of his violent misogyny and racism. We cannot pretend that his behaviour and his words are ok. We can hold him to account for what he says and does. We should do this. We must do this. 

Otherwise, what does that say about us? And what does that say about what 2017 will hold? 

Saturday, 7 January 2017

No Tim Stanley, Trump’s Presidency won’t be awesome on abortion


One of the first acts Obama took when he became President in 2009 was to overturn a law banning federal aid to organisations that gave advice or support on abortion. The law had been introduced by George Bush (remember when he seemed like the worst Presidential choice the USA had ever made??) and was totally devastating. When he reversed this destructive legislation, Obama said:

For the past eight years, they have undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning in developing countries. For these reasons, it is right for us to rescind this policy and restore critical efforts to protect and empower women and promote global economic development.”

I remember crying with happiness when he changed this law. I cried because, as Obama said, providing abortion and contraceptive services to women is key to our empowerment. It recognises our right to bodily integrity and gives us an element of control over our lives, and over our economic, education and professional potential. 

The overturning of this dangerous law was Obama’s promise of change, of ‘yes we can’, in action. It signalled that we were moving forward on women’s rights. That we were winning the argument - proving that giving women control over our reproductive health was the right and proper thing to do. 

What a difference eight years make. 

I don’t write about abortion rights often because whenever I do I get abuse. I’m breaking that self-protecting ban today in response to Tim Stanley’s Telegraph article, where he suggests that Trump’s Presidency could be more awesome than awful - partly through his dedication to eroding women’s hard-won right to bodily autonomy. 

In his article, Stanley writes:

 3. Abortion gets rarer

The numbers of terminations have actually been falling under Barack Obama, thankfully, but the Democrats have resisted attempts to remove public funding – putting pro-life taxpayers in a horrible position.

Trump and the Republican Congress should cut the money supply. Paul Ryan, the Speaker, has said he wants to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood, which is a good sign.

Men should really just stop writing about abortion. Just please, stop. 

Because Stanley is not just grossly offensive in his suggestion that stripping away women’s rights is ‘awesome’. 

He’s plain wrong. 

Firstly, one of the reasons terminations have fallen under Obama is because of a rolling back on the policy promoting and funding abstinence-only sex education, which left young people ill-prepared for sexual relationships and meant they were less likely to use contraception. It’s pretty basic stuff: the best way to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and therefore abortions is to provide women and men with decent, comprehensive sex education and access to contraception. Condoms are, quite simply, the best way to prevent pregnancy. When you don’t give people this information or easy access to condoms, then you’re going to end up with a lot of cases of unwanted pregnancy and an increased rate of STDs. In America under Bush, this is exactly what happened. 

Secondly, denying women access to abortion services does not decrease the number of abortions. This is not some feminist fantasy. In countries where abortion is illegal - and that country includes our own thanks to the fact that abortion is still criminalised in Northern Ireland - women still seek out illegal and unsafe abortions. Across the world, 21.6 million women seek unsafe abortions each year, and 47,000 women will die as a result. Denying women access to our right of bodily integrity quite literally kills us. 

Giving women access to their rights and sovereignty over our own bodies is absolutely key to women’s liberation and gender equality. If we cannot have control over our reproductive choices, over our own bodies, then we cannot have control over our lives. 

Obama knew this when he repealed the law that denied women life-saving and life-controlling advice on contraception, reproductive health and abortion. 

The Republicans know it too. 

And, deep in his heart, Tim Stanley knows it too. 

They know that restricting abortion access will do absolutely nothing to reduce the number of abortions. 

They know that slashing Planned Parenthood and therefore denying women and men access to contraception and reproductive health advice will in fact increase the rate of unwanted pregnancy and therefore increase the need for abortions. 

They know that women who are pregnant and don’t want to be will risk the law and their own health in order to terminate that pregnancy. 

And they know that restricting abortion brings pain, suffering, erodes women’s empowerment, increases inequality and destroys a woman’s right to her bodily autonomy. 

They know that restricting abortion leads to more women dying. 

They know all of this. 

So I say to Tim Stanley: stop pretending. If you think Trump’s Presidency is going to be awesome because it’ll restrict abortion, what you really mean is that Trump’s Presidency will be awesome because it is going to destroy a key human right that all women are entitled to - the right to bodily autonomy that you, as a man, take wholly for granted. 


You think Trump’s Presidency is going to be awesome, because you, Trump, Pence, Ryan and that whole sorry bunch of vile, privileged men don’t believe women are entitled to this right. 

Friday, 6 January 2017

For BBC Radio Bristol: The John Darvall show

I was invited onto the John Darvall show on BBC Radio Bristol to talk about being Spike Island's newest writer-in-residence and to generally bang on about how much I love 1920s Paris.

I was interviewed by the very lovely Jonathan Ray.

You can listen to the interview on iPlayer for the next 29 days.

I start 2 hours and 11 minutes in (after Van Morrison Moon Dance) and then there's a song (Rock the Boat) and then I finish 2 hours 32 minutes in.

I just listened back and feel I did a good job if I say so myself!

Have a listen

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Bristol Women's Lit Fest events and literary adventures in 2017

As you may well know, I'm both the founder and director of the Bristol Women's Literature Festival
It's been a bit quiet on that front lately but that is all about to change, as today I embark on a four-month writer's residency at Bristol's Spike Island
Funded by Arts Council England, the residency is both for me to work on my novel and other writing projects, as well as to foster public engagement with literature in Bristol. 
Over the next four months, I'm therefore running a series of salon events at Spike Island, bringing together emerging and established talent from Bristol and the UK to share their work and prompt discussion. 
The first takes place on Thursday 16 February at 6.30pm and feature Miles Chambers, Vera Chok and Shagufta Iqbal. 
The second is an all-woman affair for Women's History Month and features Bidisha, Tania Hershmann and Holly Corfield-Carr. 
The final event is on 29 April and speakers include Ben Gwalchmai, Amy Key and Eley Williams. Tickets will be available nearer the time. 
Each event will feature me sharing some of the work I've created during the residency. We'll then hear from each invited guest. After a short break, attendees will be invited to share their own work. 
The events are inspired by the great Gertrude Stein's salons in 1920s Paris, where writers and artists gathered together to share their work and support one another's publishing ventures. 
And there's more!
Throughout the residency, I'll run workshops for children and for adults. The first, on 11 February, is a drop-in session for kids. The second, on 11 March, is for ages 16+ to develop their short fiction. 
And there's more! 
The BWLF website will be a portal to an online reading group for those interested in discovering and sharing thoughts on modernist women's writing. Every fortnight I will share a piece of work with you from the period. Go and read it, then come back and discuss in the comments section. First up... Gertrude Stein. 
To find out more and book tickets for events, visit Spike Island

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Book Diary 2017

It's here!

A brand new book diary for 2017. How exciting!

You can read 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2012 too.

So, what are we starting with?

Tribute to Freud, H.D (new): everyone knows how much I love H.D and this tribute is no exception. Her imagist prose is so beautifully precise.

For Wales Arts Review: highlights of the year 2016

I'll be starting a writers residency at Wales Arts Review in July this year - how exciting!

In the meantime, I contributed some thoughts to their highlights of 2016 round-up. Basically I waxed lyrical about how much I loved Danielle Dutton's extraordinary Margaret the First.