Sex and Consent

It always starts with a kiss. People fail to mention the heavy night out that is generally the precursor. The bottle of cheap wine that you painstakingly analysed the shelves of Tesco for. The multiple jaeger bombs that you were bought throughout the night, most of which you couldn’t stomach so gifted to strangers or dotted on the various surfaces around the floor. The dancing with your friends, arms flailing and overconfident rapping to songs you’d only ever heard on the radio a couple of times before but who cares? Hugging and telling each other how truly in love you are with one another.

Or maybe it’s the date that has gone quite well (surprisingly). You arrived early wearing your best ‘nice top and jeans’ top and heeled boots so you actually feel like a grown ass woman for once. They were already there and stood when you arrived, confirming that they aren’t a liar- evidently they do work out and are taller than 6 foot. You had a bit in common, the conversation wasn’t the best you’ve ever had in your life but they can talk about more than their gym routine and their favourite sports team so you aren’t planning your escape route out of the bathroom window. No need for your flatmate to call with that ‘emergency’.

So there you are, in a flat (yours or there’s it doesn’t matter) kissing. Then they make the next move. And then the next. And it gets to a point where you think maybe it is enough. Only, for some completely illogical reason you feel like you’re past the point of no return. You object but it goes unnoticed. You speak up again and they start to try and talk you round- ‘oh come on’ ‘don’t be that girl’ ‘why?’ ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Your stomach drops and it dawns on you- am I being an inconvenience? Would it be easier to just shut up and wait it out? The good ending is you gather your things, call a taxi and leave. More often than not, you don’t.

And people will ask why not? Why wouldn’t you leave if you were so unhappy? And hell, you’ll ask yourself that over and over, until you stop hating yourself and move on. There is no black and white answer. Very few words can describe the obligation felt in that moment when someone is looking down on you, questioning your own gut instinct for which you have no other answer than ‘I just don’t want to’ and that just isn’t good enough.

Over the last day or two I have had more conversations about sexual consent and rape culture than maybe ever before, certainly since the #metoo movement began. An article in Babe.net documented the experience of a 23 year old photographer from New York, when she went on a date with Aziz Ansari. Instead of unpacking the article the link is below.

https://babe.net/2018/01/13/aziz-ansari-28355

The experience of Grace is painfully reminiscent of the encounter detailed in Cat Person, a short story by Kristen Roupenian published in the New Yorker in December.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/12/11/cat-person

Both of these stories have gone viral because they tap into a female experience that had never before been considered worthy of discussion.

The difference between Ansari and Weinstein is that as the latter’s crimes have become more visible and more survivors have stepped forward, he has become increasingly distanced from most men. They wouldn’t dream of the kind of sexual harassment, coercion and assault that went on behind closed hotel room doors in the Hollywood hills. Yet this isn’t to say that women should have to be summoned, threatened, assaulted and raped before we have a serious conversation about our attitudes towards sex and consent. The article in Babe shook us because it threw away all of our notions of sexual acceptability. It had women across the world standing in solidarity that this had happened to them too- on multiple occasions and men questioning their own behaviour in ‘the heat of the moment’.

Ansari is a generally respected guy. He is a funny man. He has shown that self-deprecation can sell out Madison Square Garden. I read his book, Modern Romance last year and loved it so much I wrote about it. Yet, many critics of the article have used Ansari’s likeability and reputation for not being a complete idiot as a reason as to why the accusations couldn’t possibility be true.

When it comes down to it Ansaris personal credentials- whether he is or isn’t a nice person to sit, have a coffee and a chat with, is by the by. If someone asks you if you want a cup of tea, you say no and after 45 minutes of them questioning you and shoving their range of tea bags in your face they force a mug down your throat you’d think them absolutely insane. So why is it okay to think that you are entitled to use your position of power to violate another person’s body?

The bottom line is, no does not mean convince me. It doesn’t mean ‘I’m being cute, I want to know how much you want it’ and it certainly doesn’t mean go for it and I will physically have to try and move you away from me. Yes both Cat Person and Graces story are not exceptional, they happen all the bloody time. In what backwards world does that mean it’s less of a problem?

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Three Promises

First things first, HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope you had the best, messiest, most magical New Year’s Eve and are ready for the year ahead. I find, as much as I fight it, I get really reflective at this time of year. Once the wine headache passes and I can concentrate on anything other than how much I would just like to go back to bed, thinking about the previous year and what you might want to change is almost inevitable.

I find resolutions really problematic because they put so much pressure on you to change aspects of yourself, therefore insinuating that parts of you are wrong or bad. Confidence doesn’t happen in a vacuum. For many years, and I would actually say up until very recently it is fake it until you make it. I didn’t like myself or my appearance for a very long time and everyone has their struggles with that.

Because like so many other people who grew up in an environment where academic achievement and a hot body were signifiers of success, I constantly felt like there was more that could be done. I was never truly happy in the moment because I felt shitty about the way my stomach looked in a certain dress which would ruin parties for me or I didn’t have the confidence to speak up and pitch my own ideas which meant working underneath people who couldn’t see my abilities because I was hiding them from them. And don’t get me wrong, I feel that way now sometimes. There will always be people around you that are so insecure in themselves that they have to bring you down with them. Whether that is calling you stupid so they don’t have to face that you might not share the same opinions or calling you fat to silence and shame you.

So, instead of deciding to lose 20 pounds for someone who still won’t see your beauty because they can’t get past their own hurt, I have worked out the three things I will be leaving behind in 2017.

I will not be convenient. I am not good at sitting down, being quiet and making myself pretty for the ease of someone else. That’s just not me. I am personable, funny and I like talking to people about what really sets them on fire- even if I don’t share those opinions. I can’t dim my light for someone else’s insecurities. I can’t apologise for working towards being as confident as I can be.

I am not going to give myself the time or the head space to make myself feel bad about how I look or what or who I love. I work out, I eat fairly well and I treat myself and that has nothing to do with anyone but myself. I love watching back to back episodes of Made in Chelsea and spending time on my makeup- that doesn’t make me stupid or vapid. It is good to feel like you’re progressing and moving forward but if 2017 taught me anything, it is most important to be happy.

Lastly, investing time, energy and money into people who build me up rather than tear me down is only going to make me happier. I am leaving behind the time wasters. I have too many people who I don’t see enough of already. To the ones who made finishing my degree without having a full mental breakdown a remote possibility. Who spent hours on end with me in the library revising the most pernickety details of media law, sharing snacks, not judging when it was my turn to question all of my life choices up until that point. To the girls who would snuggle into my bed in the morning after an undoubtedly eventful night before to debrief, and cuddle and laugh. And the people who push me out of my comfort zone to do more and grow and actually feel things rather than living a safe, stagnant, numb existence.

2017 wasn’t such a great mental health year. There were amazing highs but also really painful lows. Whilst some of this was out of my control, making these positive steps- not resolutions will hopefully mean I will spend 2018 brighter, happier and more successful.

 

The closest to New Year New Me as I think it’s going to get…

I don’t want to start this post by sounding like the elderly woman that I truly am but where did Christmas go? It always seems to come round so quickly but this year it’s come and gone so fleetingly that I’m not entirely sure whether I should still be in the pub day drinking or preparing for the New Year. Because obviously new year new me…

In all seriousness I hope you had the best Christmas celebrating with your nearest and dearest and are now cuddled up on the sofa in your PJ’s nursing the food baby that won’t budge until January 5th. That is doing Christmas properly, after all.

I have written in the past about my niggles with New Year’s resolutions. If you want to do something go out and do it now. You don’t have to wait for the coldest, darkest month of the year, when you are surrounded by the most delicious food on God’s green earth to decide that you are going to drop four dress sizes and become a vegan. I promise you, nothing is more unappealing than leaving your cosy home to go to an overcrowded gym at 8pm on a Thursday night when it is practically Baltic weather conditions outside. January is the Monday morning of the months and I salute anyone who can do dry January when you spend the 1st nursing the biggest hangover of the year.

This year feels a little bit different though. Whereas September used to be my motivational month- the month I would look forward to a fresh start, I am no longer in education so if anything September marks the end of summer and no one wants that. So this year, sat on the sofa nursing my poor body after a month of living off Christmas tree chocolates, sharer bags of Walkers Sensations and gin and tonics I have decided to make some New Year’s resolutions.

Look it really is New Year New Me…

  • So, the first is completely practical- I need to learn how to drive. As someone who finds it very difficult to sit still, hates public transport and is over the age of 17 I should probably know how to drive already yet here I am still being ferried around by my increasingly irritated parents. So this year I am going to bite the bullet, book some lessons and with a bit of luck, pass my test. What is the worst that can happen?

 

  • I want to read 50 books. This is fairly self-explanatory. I have a book shelf full of books that I have partially read and for Christmas I received 10 books- 4 of which were on Brexit (what a barrel of laughs I must be). I hate that I am forever buying books or adding to the ever increasing list of must reads on my phone but I never get round to actually sitting down and reading. If I have enough time in the week to get through three series of Made in Chelsea I should probably do something that adds to my intellect rather than taking away from it.

 

  • Get published by somewhere that I love. Vague? I know but I don’t want to write down specific publications because then it becomes real and heaven forbid anyone hold me accountable… Since finishing my degree I have spent so much time writing cover letters and applications and dropped off with pitching and producing articles- actual journalism, you know, the thing I want to do. Pitching is one of those things that, in reality isn’t that hard until you stop doing it. Then you have the existential crisis that you have no good ideas, all editors are soul destroying (they’re not) and you have no idea what is going on in the world. So this year I am going to pitch and pitch and pitch until somewhere I love takes something of mine- or I’ll die trying.

 

  • I don’t need to tell anyone that the last year in politics has been a little bit of a shit show. I have given up on saying Trump can’t get any worse because he always comes through and manages to surprise me. The British political establishment isn’t much better. However, through all of the disappointment something good has come from this year. I have had more conversations with friends about the issues that really matter to them than ever before. Me Too opened a space to start seriously talking about sexism, harassment and assault in an environment where, on the whole you wouldn’t be silenced. Years of austerity in this country has left hundreds of thousands of people homeless and there is so much more we can do. And Brexit is, well it’s Brexit. This next year instead of just talking to people about the things that I care about or taking to social media like some sort of tyrant keyboard warrior I want to get involved with activism. Go to a meeting, march, be fully involved. The news makes the world seem like a pretty bleak place but we are living in a really exciting time too.

 

  • I would love to visit two new countries or cities this coming year. I got the opportunity to go to Prague last year and whilst I made friends for life and worked under some amazing journalists, it wasn’t exactly a holiday. I have the itch again, even if it is a couple of long weekends. I want to go and wander around a new place, people watch from a coffee shop and eat ridiculous amounts of food- all the appropriate holiday activities.

 

  • And last but certainly not least I will see my friends more. I have loved moving home and getting to spend time with people I haven’t seen properly for the last four years. They have got me through the first few months of adult life. Saying that I so miss my friends from university. Spread out across the country, it feels completely unnatural that I wouldn’t see or speak to them every day. So this year I am going to make a proper effort to see them all as much as I possibly can.

So there it is. What an infinitely better human I will be by the end of next year… And obviously I will hit the gym harder, find a way to impeach Donald Trump, reverse Brexit and stop eating so much garlic bread. Even if I get to March and decide that my brain cannot retain anymore books and I have had too many near misses that I will be Ubers sole customer in my town I checked up on last year’s list and my first resolution was learn to snowboard. So if anything 2017 has made me a realist and once I have slept off the inevitable New Years Eve hangover (I can already tell it will be a two dayer) maybe something could get done in 2018.

Regaining ‘why not me?’

I vividly remember the day Tony Blair resigned. It was summer and the end of the school year. My Dad was picking me up so I knew that there would be some sort of treat involved in the walk home. As I made a beeline for the ice cream van he explained what had happened. Too upset for ice cream but hell bent on a treat, I cried all the way to the corner shop, he bought me a Twister and for about 20 minutes I was okay again. Good parenting.

I didn’t understand. How could there be a new Prime Minister? Coming into office when I was three, as far as I was concerned Blair was going to be Prime Minister for the rest of my life. How was I supposed to deal with this? Obviously, aged ten I didn’t understand the nuances of the British economy, Iraq war or ‘special’ relationship. Yet, all the same, I vowed that very day that I would fulfil my (short) lifelong ambition of becoming the first female Prime Minister (Thatcher didn’t exist to me then- happier times) to also win an Oscar for best director. I wasn’t a bossy child, I promise.

I had unwavering belief that this was my life path, how could I not lead the country if Tony wasn’t willing to anymore? That was until I turned 13, discovered Tumblr and having ambitions no longer became a priority. The leadership race could wait for me whilst I locked myself in my bedroom, listened to Paramore and tattooed my entire body with sharpie.

But something definitely changed. It is like I became a teenager and a ‘shame and fear’ switch flicked in my brain. I became less concerned about how I perceived myself and suddenly I was aware of what other people thought I should be. Children are small which, generally means they’re vulnerable. But I know for a fact even, even now 13 years on I feel far more vulnerable than the day I made a pact with myself to move into number 10, Oscar in tow.

If I had a £1 for every time someone turned to me in a bid to comfort me; to tell me that ‘life is messy’ and ‘it is the best time for you to just go with it’, I wouldn’t be sat up in bed at 1am doing job applications and wondering if I can tie a bow on my head and persuade my parents that I am the greatest Christmas gift they could hope for. Because as much as I wish I was ‘that’ girl who could dwell in her own disorder I’m not. If life is messy all I want to do is take the mess, fold it up and organise it in a draw.

I have watched friends open themselves up romantically and professionally to have it throw it back in their face; numerous job rejections, failed relationships, flawed friendships. It isn’t that you choose to no longer be vulnerable. It is just that logic would indicate that why would you continue letting yourself get hurt when you can protect yourself? You get ‘the’ fear that isn’t even on the radar of 10 year olds. Yet if you refuse to never let yourself get hurt again you won’t ever do anything that is, essentially worth doing.

A couple of months ago I read an interview with Emily Weiss, founder of Glossier. The very definition of boss bitch she talked about how Glossier started and how nervous she was for it to launch in the UK- what if it wasn’t as big a success here? What if people didn’t connect with it? Would it last?

Her concerns were unwarranted and I currently have half of a Glossier showroom in my bathroom to prove it but I read back the questions that I have asked myself before every job interview or every point in a relationship where it starts to get a little serious and I have been burned before.

It is like another switch flicked (I do have a broad concept of what the brain is but go with the switch analogy). For so long I felt being vulnerable and not necessarily believing that I always deserve things contradicted what I so strived for- being in control. But in the process of giving in to fear I prevented myself from ever pursuing anything that would make me happy.

It is like at some point we lose the ‘why not me?’ And it is on that note that I shall be taking over from Theresa May and renegotiating Brexit myself. Just after I finish directing my Oscar winning documentary.

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

One of the reasons I love this time of year the most is because I will binge watch the entirety of Harry Potter from start to finish, at least three times. I know they’re not strictly Christmas appropriate but nothing gets me in a festive mood quite like Christmas day in the Philosophers Stone or the Yule Ball in the Goblet of Fire.

Like so many people my age Harry, Ron and Hermione shaped my childhood (my entire life). Coming of age at the perfect time, I don’t remember a time before Harry Potter. I became completely obsessed with the boy who lived, arguing with my school friends daily about whether we would be Ravenclaws or Gryffendors and fantasizing about my die hard crush, Dean Thomas. As a Ravenclaw our love would have transcended houses…

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Come on now, you see it!

As a child who really struggled to sit still unless my tea was in front of me, reading was a bit of a mission. My parents had always read to me before bed but as I grew up and that stopped so did reading. Harry Potter showed me that reading could be incredibly enjoyable. It led me to try books by other authors, which has paid off many times since. It changed my life because it allowed me to love reading again.

The books also taught me some integral lessons growing up and in the spirit of Christmas I have picked my favourite from each book…

Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone

“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

“Don’t let the Muggles get you down.”giphy.gif

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

“Numbing the pain for a while will only make it worse when you finally feel it.”

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

“According to Madam Pomfrey, thoughts could leave deeper scars than almost anything else.”

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

“‘The thing about growing up with Fred and George,’ said Ginny thoughtfully, ‘Is that you sort of start thinking anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.’”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

“Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.”tenor.gif

The Hollaback Girls

It is Friday at 6pm on a train. There are enough people packed into the carriage to make anyone forget that the weekend is here and you spend most of the 20 minute journey trying not to stand too close to the armpit of the man next to you. This is only made harder when said man refuses to hold onto any of the railings tightly enough and therefore falls into you, pit first, every time the train so much as jitters. As the carriage empties he moves away from me and I can finally go back to breathing through my nose.

“Hi”, he said. I wasn’t really sure if he was addressing me initially and as Riscas were getting me in the mood for Friday night I wasn’t about to turn them off for anyone so I smiled a tight lipped smile and looked back down at my book.

“Excuse me…hi.” I took an ear bud out thinking he was going to tell me I had something on my face. “How are you?” Evidently, he didn’t realise that we are in Britain and any social interaction on public transport should be restricted to apologising when you hit someone with your bag. “Yea I’m good thank you.” Silence…

“I recognise you, do we know each other?” He asked moving to my side of the carriage. “No, not unless you have seen me on the train before,” I said taking a step back and willing the conversation to end. Nonchalantly leaning against the door he said “Well I would like to really get to know all of ‘that’,” looking me up and down, “come for a drink at my flat tonight?” In an ideal world the doors of the train would have opened and he would be gone. But instead I told him to go to hell and walked off down the carriage. Then, in front of at least 20 other passengers he shouted “you shouldn’t play hard to get babe, you’re not pretty enough for that shit.” No one said anything.

This is tame and by no means exceptional to the experiences of so many people every day. The Huffington Post revealed that around 1 in 3 women experience sexual harassment on the street. It was the year of naming and shaming and #MeToo but is anything really changing?

As I got home and set about spilling my anger over the page of a note book, cup of tea in hand, I started to let go of how upset I felt but couldn’t help but wonder how many women had experienced something very similar the same day. How many would that be?

Sophie Sandberg is a student in New York. Over the last couple of years women have sent her unwanted comments they have received and she has gone to the place where it happened and written them out in big chalk letters on the pavement. She hopes people will recognise their own words in her work and will make them think twice about catcalling.

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Instagram: @catcallsofnyc

I first found Sophie’s Instagram, @catcallsofNewYork after reading Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates. Fixated on how people express their own personal trauma, opening up and speaking out in the hope that it empowers someone somewhere. When it happens it so often sounds like a compliment- “Hey girl, hey gorgeous” but it makes you feel so uncomfortable and dirty in your own body as if, by token of being a woman in a public space you are being watched and open for comment on.

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Instagram: @catcallsofnyc

The perfect thing about #MeToo, Everyday Sexism and Catcalls of New York is that it lets people know they’re not alone and that they aren’t doing anything to provoke unwanted attention or advances. Women are expressing their pain and experiences so that a conversation that has always been going on behind closed doors is now in the mainstream and it isn’t going anywhere.  It is no secret anymore that it is nice, normal boys that are harassing, assaulting and abusing women. It isn’t always the creep that jumps out of a bush.  They are the boys you went to university with, that you work with, that come from good homes and your mum asks you how they are from time to time.

TIME announced their person of the year for 2017 were The Silence Breakers pushing for change. The more we speak out, the more people will listen and I know after some of the most unpleasant encounters that I have experienced this has got me through.

All I want for Christmas is…no news, Tom Hardy and a puppy

Is that too much to ask?

It is two in the morning. I am watching the minutes tick by on my phone and every so often I work out how many hours sleep I will get if I fall asleep right at this minute. Six hours, five hours, four hours. Scrolling through my twitter feed endlessly I am getting more and more panicked.

The Supreme Court has just passed Trumps travel ban which has resulted in another sleepless night for me because whilst ghosts or monsters scare some, Trump, the Westminster elite and the patriarchy keep me up at night. It has been a lottery over the last few weeks as to which would keep me awake but I haven’t had a proper night’s sleep in about a month. My weary face and eye bags could probably give someone a sleepless night at this point.

Experts have said that “survival- threatening subject matter, such as crime, war and famine, automatically grabs out attention and generate an emotional reaction. As a result, news is not just news, but information increasingly harnessed for spectacle and entertainment.” Sensationalism is not a new thing, the Sun has earnt its daily bread off it for decades.

Because 2016 was the year that all of our favourite celebrities died and 2017 revealed the rest of them to be rapists, harassers and pests.

This morning I woke up and watched the news with my morning coffee, hair wild and half asleep. Then as I got ready for the day and made myself look more human I listened to the Times Red Box podcast debriefing the budget. I spent the rest of the day staring at a computer screen, flitting from the Guardian, to the BBC, to the Times reading and despairing. I got home and I decided I needed to de-stress, I went to the gym and whilst working out listened to this week’s Guardian UK Politics podcast- Trumps tweets and the Irish border. It turns out you can’t even go to the gym without Trump following you. And all the while my phone was buzzing with breaking news updates. It is relentless.

Now, granted the news is very much tied into my life. I am interested in politics and the more you read the better writer you are so if anything it is research. Yet I wonder why I am going to bed anxious when I have been glued to a screen all day reading about our government which is attacking the poor, destroying peace agreements and falling apart all at the same time. It is like an addiction, I know it is bad for me but I can’t stop. I wouldn’t have three Big Macs everyday so why am I filling my head with negative opinions and often, gossip. We know that eating crap is bad for our physical health so why don’t we equate reading crap as being bad for our mental health?

So this Christmas, in the midst of the Good Friday agreement collapsing and Trump starting World War Three (or so I have been told) I have decided I am going to go on a news detox. I am not going to inhabit a cave for the next three weeks although if I get my other Christmas wishes and Tom Hardy wants to join me I am sure we can work something out. Caves can be cosy with the right company and puppies.

Failing that, I am going to listen to feel good podcasts at the gym, be proactive in my reading because there are positive stories out there and get my head out of the news bubble.

In my one day mission to not let the DUP, US and Brexit ruin my Christmas I have found…

When Life Gives You Melons- An incredible podcast hosted by the hilarious Maya Jama discussing everything from bad dates, the best career advice you can get and wriggling out of relationships. This is the perfect podcast for a long commute or cardio session so long as you’re not embarrassed at laughing to yourself in public.

Late Night Women’s Hour- Another funny and frank podcast headed up by Lauren Laverne this will give you your fix of clever ideas and thoughts on topics such as hair, ageing and balance. You will feel like you have really learnt something without hearing someone bleat Trump at you.

Why I am no longer talking to white people about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge- So after cutting my screen time I actually managed to get through a whole book without it taking me a year. Tired of playing nice Eddo-Lodge is done with white compatriots talking about racism as if it is an intellectual exercise that so misses the point of her lived experience. Discussions about racism are so often lead by those who are not affected by it and if anything this book has taught me to sit down, shut up and listen.