Part of the problem.

My breasts are on the internet again. The article a friend linked me to claimed that ‘these powerful images reminded the world that women could change history’. The picture in question had been drawn by María María Acha-Kutscher, a Peruvian artist who has been drawing images of women on demonstrations and, well, there I was. Orange hair, resting bitch face, ‘fuck’ scrawled on my bare chest in lipstick (the full slogan was ‘fuck the police’, naturally). Slutwalk 2012 seems like SO long ago and so much has changed since then – but did we really change history?

Let me take you back: 2012 was one year after 50 Shades had been released. Survivors were questioning how fit for purpose the Met’s Sapphire Unit and the IPCC were after several stories of falsified evidence and failure to record sexual assault reports properly. Blurred Lines had not yet been released. Operation Yewtree would not start until October.

Two weeks or so before I had been a part of the Slutwalk press stunt outside of Downing Street. About thirty women or so – working class women, women of colour, sex workers, students, disabled women, trans women, queer women, migrant women, mothers, daughters, sisters and grandmothers – met at a social centre, daubed ourselves in lipstick and pulled off our tops as we pulled on our wigs and masks. We shouted, we cried, we shared experiences, we listened. We were photographed. Well, I was photographed. And this was the beginning of the problem with Slutwalk and how it was presented in the media.

That demonstration was what I wish that all demonstrations could be – loads of women coming together and swearing at David Cameron. But the only close-up photos that made it into the newspapers were of myself and the only other young, white, cis woman there. The eighty year old standing next to me was cropped out of frame. The older women of colour and the sex workers who were the driving force behind the demo were totally ignored other than group shots where their faces were covered. Those who had come from DPAC were not, as far as I’m aware, photographed at all. Instead of ‘survivor’ I was reported ‘VICTIM’. In my bra and mask, the normal signifiers which hint that I’m working class were ambiguous. The articles were run and people dismissed Slutwalk as being a posh white girls press stunt. So when the main demonstration rolled around the demographic became majorly skewed towards white, cis women and those dismissals of the initial event were compounded. The women of colour who organised the event were written out of the story. The white supremacy of feminism reigns once more. It’s a pattern that repeats itself again and again.

This picture of me is a part of that. I love that someone drew a picture of me because that’s flattering and humbling and cool but I should not have been chosen as a symbol of that protest. As the photo that Acha-Kutscher based her illustration on was being taken, I was waiting for my phenomenal friend and sister to take the stage and talk about her experiences of reporting rape to the police and how fucking awful they had treated her. All I did that day was jump on the train, whip my top off and have my photo taken because I’m pretty by conventional, ablest, racist beauty standards. There are so many incredible activists who are being monumentally shafted by the mainstream media because they are not cis, white women.

No, I really don’t think that Slutwalk changed anything at all.

So here I am, three years on, sticking my nose out into the Spring air after a long period of hibernation from feminist politics. I’m told that I should ‘lose control’ every ten minutes by 50 Shades of Grey adverts. Sexual offence reports are up by 20%. More white women who look a bit like me but do not talk like me are spouting infuriating shit in the name of all women. Sex workers are being forced out of Soho. Women around the world continue to be raped, murdered and sold.

What can we do? Browsing Tumblr and sharing Jennifer Lawrence GIFs isn’t enough. Marching on Reclaim the Night surrounded by the Met police who are partly responsible for the dismal rape prosecution rates isn’t enough. Reading Julie fucking Bindel on the Guardian website is outright damaging.

There needs to be an escalation. They say that well behaved women rarely make history. Let’s take them up on that invitation.

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Feminist ally

Why are you facebook still friends with a known abuser?
Why. are youstill

friends (?!)

with a known abuser

Feminist ally?

How can you keep that company and still look me in the eye? To paraphrase another woman who had her consent abused: The shame of it all should crush you.

I don’t want to see ghost conversations on social media. I shouldn’t have to. I don’t want to walk with fists clenched, in fear and anger, when I visit my adopted home town. I shouldn’t have to. I don’t want to be friends with friends of my enemy. I don’t want that for myself and for the – dozens – of other women who he made/makes/will make unsafe.

We shouldn’t fucking have to.

‘Like’

In my dreams he’s security at a gig, he floats passed iron railings at the beach, he slaps me and no one does a thing. I scream, I cry, I shout and punch and kick and spit. But no one does a thing.

I feel betrayed. I feel humiliated. I feel alone.

But at least, in my dreams, my stand-aside friends don’t make excuses for themselves, or for him.

I hope that this is the last thing I ever have to write to remind you.

Words

I looked over my past writing here and felt a bit uncomfortable. I still broadly stand by what I’ve said and it’s nice to look back but… my grammar and spelling is awful. Like a VPL: my ignorance is showing. I went to a two hour course on grammar at work and the moment they started chatting about clauses – I was dead to the world.

But then I remembered:

A friend recalling that he, a fellow working class northerner and a posh guy were talking. The posh guy was struggling.

“Talk faster -” my friend said, “working class people talk quickly. Talk faster.”

I type like I talk and
I talk so fast that my words come out muddled. My brain needs to catch up with my tongue and my typing fingers. And like speech, there’s little editing. It shows –

I, write, with, too, many, commas,

and whatever these things are ;

I write like I talk
– in a rush
because I am
afraid of pauses
afraid of these fucking things .

If you pause – they might nick you, dock your benefits or put you on the street. If you don’t get your thoughts out, you’ll get looked over
because you’re a woman and
because your brain doesn’t work ‘properly’ and
because you’re a migrant or you have no home or you’re out of work.

Fuck it. The past writing stays.

JBear

Darling sister, you were dancing the Charleston when I second saw you. First time, things were foggy and corrupted; a surprise encounter that neither of us were prepared for but the second time was Rhythm, Doctor Who and Class As. You blew me away. Less a hurricane and more a Brighton sea breeze. Your intellect, your honesty, your joy. No explanations necessary, no apologies needed. Who else could empathise so completely? Teenage witch telepathy.

I figure that will come in handy. When revolution comes we’ll stand side by side because, y’know, we’ve fought together before. You and your .45; me and my tank. I’ve always got your back, grrl. We’ve conquered enemies more insidious and conniving than governments or armies. We are the dragon slayers, flappers with knives hidden in garter belts. And when the dust settles, we’ll dance the Charleston to make our revolution worth having.

I hope you’re having a magical time, bearcat.

Aside

This is old but I’m trying to be braver with posting written words.

 

My mini skirt is pieced together from jeans I’ve had since I was 15. The holes were made hopping fences and fucking in the backseat. Seven summers have bleached the denim from indigo to baby blue. I stitched the sides up in colours that suffragettes wore when they put bombs in churches and were force-fed by the state. When I wear my skirt, the women who did everything they could so that I could be heard walk with me. Timed with my heavily placed DMs, Gran’s tales from Greenham Common echo in my head, and my mum’s own brand of Dworkin feminism makes me shake my head. When I wear my skirt, I wear the prom dress that Flo handstitched for Angie one evening and the dungarees that broke Lynn’s housewife cycle. I wear the sequined cardigan that Cathy hid behind and the sharp suit that gathered dust on the knees as Julie crawled across the floor during dark times. I think of the women who have given me life and how they used fashion, or denied it, to make themselves, hide themselves, save themselves.

My heart was sandblasted when this skirt was jeans; it’s reincarnation hangs low on my hips after eating disorders and depression. I awkwardly pull the waistband up and over my empty stomach and people bemoan my skinny legs. And then men wolf whistle and though I shout, “Fuck you” in return, what I really mean is: I have a life and a history. My body has been weathered by rape and abuse and I carry the injustices of the women who made me. Women are born out of the emotional, physical and institutional oppressions of their mothers and aunts and sisters and all other women who have battled sexism into a struggle of their own. Like my skirt, I‘m a collective of fragments, only it‘s tattoos and muscle and the accumulated fury of generations of women who have been downtrodden that hold me together as opposed to patches and thread. That is something sacred; that is something deserving of so much more than your stupid kissy faces, so much more than your ridicule, your abuse, your rape.

No excuses for rape apology

**TRIGGER WARNING** For rape, abuse and rape apology, for brief mentions of eating disorders and suicide, but mostly for our worst enemies masquerading as our lovers, colleagues and friends.

We have watched, fought and cried over the awful ignorance surrounding rape that’s being touted in the media in the last month or so. There is no denying that rape is very much in the public mind at the moment, but while politicians play top trumps with the worst definitions they can think of and push women’s rights and body autonomy further towards the 19th century, the perpetrators of this despicable crime are still very much being glossed over, remaining comfortable while idiots like George Galloway defend them in the public forum. Last night, after being sexually harassed at a train station for twenty terrifying minutes, I came home to see a facebook event to a feminist men’s discussion group. Now, debates over the usefulness of a regular male space to discuss patriarchy aside, in the list of people who had signed up for updates I clocked at least one man who has made women feel unsafe and abused. I know this because it was someone who I was intimate with for a long time, and other people know this because I am not the first person who he has dismantled with his lying, abuse of consent, gaslighting and, ultimately, abuse of privilege. Yet, in the group he remains, protected by a history of showing up to feminist discussions, dating awesome feminist activists and an ability to quote Bell Hooks. I’m sure he’s not the only one either.

It’s an old activist joke that when you start seeing injustice in one place then, like The Matrix, you see it everywhere; my experience with abuse has felt like that. For two years, to my detriment, I made apologies for the behaviour of the person I called ‘love’ and, even in the face of my beloved sisters who he had previously hurt, I poured my compassion and mental health into the relationship. It’s only now, after comparing notes and identifying patterns with other victims and after exploring my sexuality, consent and emotion with friends and lovers that I realise just how bad it was and how much danger I had been putting myself in. And now I fear going back to the feminist spaces in my town, for fear of being faced with my abuser, for fear of having to explain myself, for fear of being shouted down again and overlooked and shamed for having opinions that didn’t align with his. I don’t want to turn up to Reclaim the Night and know that the man who made me so unsafe, the man who inspired a suicide attempt and eating disorders will be there.

When people are far more likely to be abused and raped by people that they know, we must turn our attention to those among us who claim to be allies but who are actually the enemy. This is imperative. There are too many consciousness raising circles that promise to call out ‘bad behaviour when we see it’ and yet still invite and welcome known abusers into the fold when they should be our safe spaces. Julian Assange has shown us that many so-called feminists are prepared to brush off allegations and the personal stories of women in order to protect their constructed reality. I’ve had people tell me that my ex has just got ‘women issues’, as though an entire gender is just a substance to be mistreated and abused and that’s just his Achilles Heel, hey, we all have a weakness. Even he charted it all down to just being a ‘bad boyfriend’, something that couldn’t be helped but didn’t make him a bad person because, after all, he did try but I guess it’s just in his nature not to respect consent or value my worth, like someone who can’t dance, it’s just not his fault. When we make excuses for the people in privileged social circles then abusers become abstract working class men, men of colour, slavering beasts in darkened alleyways but the truth is simple: Patriarchy slithers into even the tightest and most right-on activist groups and we must be fierce in our defence of those spaces. I have heard excuses too many times; I have heard so many people in the aftermath of my break up telling me how uncomfortable they felt in the presence of the man who mentally pulled me apart and yet they said nothing at the time and they are still saying nothing.

So let me say something. To the abusers, rapists and apologists: stay the fuck at home when feminist events and marches come up in your facebook calander. It is not our job to accommodate you. It is not our job to give you a second/third/fourth chance. You are everything we despise. I refuse to tip toe around you after you obliterated my self worth. You made me feel so isolated and so fragile, hiding my true allies away and making every one of us feel worthless, but we found each other now. We are stronger than you: We don’t need you, we don’t want you here. Rapists go home.

Floored.

I am so tired. Stress permeates every action and thought, it’s making my movements sluggish and stupid, it’s making my voice low. I am homeless. It’s a stigma that I never thought would be mine. My housemates arranged to move out before I was ready and now I’m on a mattress in a beloved friend’s kitchen. It’s not been the best year. The year before that wasn’t so sparkly either. I don’t know what I was expecting.

Since I could talk and read, adults have labelled me bright, sparking a chain reaction of SATs, 11plus, CATs, SATs v2 (The State Strikes Back), GCSEs and then A-Levels, not to mention end of term and year streaming exams. Constant testing to ensure that I wasn’t somehow cheating the system by fluke. Despite being the first kid in my family to go to college and not head first into work or the army; under Blair’s government it was always taken for granted that I would get to uni, become a doctor and get out of the white-van-man town I lived in. And go to uni I did. My mum’s greatest boast is that I ‘did it all myself’, meaning that she didn’t have to give me a penny the entire way through which had always been the biggest concern. I was the only kid in my class to get into Grammar school without a tutor; my A-levels were EMA funded; when we couldn’t afford a retake – I worked my ass off at A2 to drag up that grade; I had a job throughout. I’m telling you this because it wasn’t until I got to university that I even realised that not everyone knows that experiences are shaped by money, or lack of. I was regularly and flippantly called a chav, mostly when people found out that I had only been to the theatre for Christmas pantos or on school trips, or when I didn’t know what hummus was (I also once got called a racist and another time got called white trash for that faux pas.) A housemate, frustrated by my generous hardship scholarship, once quipped that ‘we can’t all have our parents divorce just to get money off the state’. Ouch. She didn’t know, she couldn’t have known what it felt like. On the eve of our first GCSE exam, her parents were probably tucking her in early while I was cowering upstairs in tears, clutching at my little sister, hearing furniture crack and voices hoarse from shouting. We went downstairs at 2am to find mum on the floor with blood running down her face. The breakdown of my parent’s 20 year relationship came first, I knew that instinctively. The next morning Mum went to work stoic and I got an A on my English paper.

I never felt entirely at home at uni, it’s not made for ‘people like us’. Charity work and a brilliant support network distracted me from every ski tour idiot who whined about their overdraft and scoffed at the thought of anyone at Warwick without ‘at least some money’. I nearly tore that girl’s face off. On another occasion, about two months ago, I was sitting in a Hackney park when a friend of a friend asserted that I had a degree so I must be middle class. As though letters after my name erased 23 years of having my arse (and the arses of the people I love) kicked by the system. The fights I had been in, the fights I had stopped, the needles on the edges of the playgrounds, the times the police came to school and stopped me when I came out of shops, the childish bullying I was victim to for not having stuff – all silenced. The parental frustration and the relentless pressure caused by constant budgeting, the fear of losing my job because I can’t afford uniform and the stress of making £50 last the month – irrelevant. My intellect does not somehow ‘promote’ me into your rich-ass world and simultaneously, your shared house and shabby chic clothing do not let you into mine. Another friend tried to ease the tension by saying how ‘skint’ they were but all it did was highlight how oblivious these otherwise right-on people are. The people who, when times are tough, go on holiday or ask their parents for money; the ones who go travelling and suggest I do the same. I lend to my parents just as often as they lend to me and I have used up my pro-rata holiday time from my zero-hour contract job looking for a roof and saving it for when an emergency comes.

But, in a sense, he was right, the guy who made me feel like a class traitor for fulfilling my potential. My accent and vocabulary in Warwick provoked laughter sometimes but at home it instigates rage and ridicule. My ever-supportive mum called me Eliza Doolittle when I came home that first Summer. When I get angry about the news or drop academic language into conversation, it’s read as a statement and as a challenge to the intellect of the people I’m talking to. I’m just talking. I’m accused of having forgotten where I’m from, of having dreams of travel that can never come true, of daring to hope that one day I’ll have a job that might change something. I feel trapped between the two worlds. I feel hopeless and abandoned and like I’m a failure, light-years behind everyone else I know. I should never have gone to university, the system wasn’t made for people like me. But I can’t go back now. At the apex of arguments my sister always screams that I think I’m too good for my home town, for my family. I hope that one day, she sees that I think that everyone is too good for this. I had a wonderful childhood that was filled with love but no one should have to go without, no one should be ridiculed for being poor. Just because we had no money does not mean that we, and other desperate people, had to live in a place where drugs, drinking and fighting were the primary ways to cope. No one should be hungry or be jobless or, of course, be homeless. But we are these things. And given the reception I felt at university, the training ground for politicians and world leaders, I know that we will continue to go without until we organise and put that fight we learnt as kids to good use.

But that’s pretty fucking hard to do from a kitchen floor.