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.

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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.

University dating: An 18th Century Nightmare

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of many bumble dates.

Not Austen’s original words but she was a gal before her time and I am sure the Bennet girls (Lydia in particular) would have spent many an evening in front of a roaring fire with a bottle of wine thinking of all the inventive ways to capture the open shirted, Mr Darcy had they been born 200 years later.

It is December 1st which means I am now allowed to be excited about Christmas! The festive coffees and big fluffy jumpers and coats, the lights and the carol services, I am ready for it all. I am also ready to reread one of my favourite novels and fall in love once again with the witty, bright Elizabeth Bennet; a total proto-feminist badass, and Mr. Darcy who answers every “Convert a jerk into the perfect boyfriend with true love” fantasy we’ve ever had.

It is one of my favourite past times- usually when work is slow or I have had too much caffeine so I am sat up in bed at 3 am writing absolute nonsense- to equate the men in Pride and Prejudice to the man boys you meet at university.

You meet Mr Bingley at a predrinks during fresher’s week when he turns up at your flat with alcohol that isn’t Tesco’s own brand and a Louis Theroux tee. As the night wares on he explains to you that he has already decided he is going to write his dissertation on the Paris Commune and the merits of Henri de Saint-Simon (in short you fall in love with him instantly). You share a sociology seminar and he always ensures that he gets in that his parents grew up on a council estate somewhere in the north, as if he is some sort of rags to riches prince but he means well. This is Bingley’s problem, he is a really nice spineless guy. Like a Labrador, everything is new and exciting to him and whilst he is super ‘woke’ he doesn’t understand why you can’t swing a three week skiing trip in Portes du Soleil at the drop of a hat. Because whilst he may not wear his wealth like the Mr Darcy’s of the world, he is still extremely rich and he might be painfully lovely but his two sisters are not. You eventually decide that his snobby family are a deal breaker and his faultless optimism becomes a bit much. You don’t need anyone telling you that the capitalist state will fall as they sit there sipping a Starbucks coffee.

We all know a Mr Collins and whilst most of us didn’t date him (thank god) university campuses are crawling with them. He lives in your flat block and turns up at your door one day asking if he can borrow some milk. In reality his mum stocked his fridge up before she left, this is just his in. Over the coming months, you and your flat aren’t quite sure how, but he has wormed his way in. He is always there! Someone breaks up with their boyfriend- enter Mr Collins. Someone is homesick- there’s a knock at the door. You never see him leave the flat block so there are questions as to how he is passing his degree and if he is even a student at all. In short, he is an idiotic pest that you will try to shake for the four years you are at university and he will still slide into your DM’s occasionally after you gradate. Word of warning: do not encourage Mr Collins in any way, shape or form! He doesn’t need it!

You find Mr Wickham at the bar on your uni sports night. When I say find, he walks over to you, topless and drops the cheesiest one liner you’ve ever heard. You hate yourself but it works. You don’t know if it is the 90’s pop or that toga that he wears so well but you think he might be the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to you. He is above any night out that doesn’t involve taking copious amounts of coke and you don’t really have conversations, he just tells you how his sport team is doing and then you make out…sexy. He is completely gorgeous and knows it and his family are so rich that he can afford this coke habit well into his thirties before he realises he should probably settle down and get a job. A master of negging, he is aloof, he doesn’t message you back and he won’t introduce you to his friends which in a backwards way makes you want him more. Yet when you’re with him he makes you feel so good you keep coming back. No one settles down with Wickham, you might think you have but chances are so do about seven other girls. It won’t end well and in the throes of you finally waking up and realising you don’t need this dick pirate anymore he reveals himself to be the misogynist you always suspected. Run girl!

You meet Mr Darcy post Wickham. You are done, you’ve been burnt before and you’re not ready to entertain any more floppy haired, little boy crap. You have resigned yourself to the fact that you are going to live with your super successful friends and cats. Then you spot Darcy in your university coffee shop. He is everything Wickham was- hot, brooding, rich. Yet you are not the little spring chicken that Wickham met in the student union. You have barriers that have gone up and whilst you have already planned out yours and Darcy’s wedding before you’ve even said hello, you are not about to make the same mistake again. Only you do… just slower. Instead of falling at Darcy’s feet the first time he takes you out for drinks and doesn’t have a battle with you when you insist on paying half you play it cooler. The he saves your paralytic flatmate from a predator in a club (or your sister from a pompous, lying weasel whatever floats your boat) you realise he might not be so awful after all. You also don’t want to give him up because his name is so fancy, it makes you fancy by association (Fitzwilliam Darcy, come on) like you’re grown or something.

So there it is. A long thought out, Pride and Prejudice 3 am mind vomit. But I don’t think bumble, one night stands and Netflix have made dating any more complicated. If anything at least we can spot the Wickham/ Collins and the Darcy/ Bingley’s from a mile off now. Is there anything Austen didn’t know?

Teach me how to peak

If the road to happiness is paved with good intentions then I am well on my way. Probably in one of the 50000 new pairs of yoga pants I have bought in the hope that I will automatically lose 7 pounds just by putting them on.

And I hate saying that because whilst I probably could lose a little bit of tub I don’t mind myself at the moment. I know…I am not allowed to say that, you can shoot me now. But it is true. We are constantly being told that we peak in our twenties so we better make the most of it but what does that mean?

To me, peaking is sitting in a coffee shop at three o’clock in the afternoon with friends watching the world go by with no pressing work. A coffee in hand and a large slice of cake to share (realistically to eat to myself). Then we’d end up going out, consuming a large quantity of wine, and ending the night the right way, the only way; with some chips and gravy. I would spring out of bed the next day and be able to fit into my skinny jeans without having to writhe around on my bed like a beached whale. Writhing isn’t easy when you’re nursing a red wine hangover and some drunk regret.

Now I know this might not be everyone’s dream but give me that every Friday night and I would be a happy gal! Peaking is subjective, one person’s HIIT session is another’s vomit inducing entrance to hell fire. Some think your twenties should only be spent wandering around a wilderness of bumble profiles, bars and bedrooms. Others are ready to lock it down and are picking out colour schemes for the nursery.

And whilst I am really loving feeling okay in myself at the moment and living my best child-adult life I don’t think I am peaking. Obviously, I intend to become a fully established citizen of society when I am 28- quit drinking wine, learn that in order to have a cheat day you have to eat clean the rest of the week, not speak about people I am dating to my friends like I am some sort of Frat boy…It’s all in the five year plan, because they always work out…

Instead I think I am just enjoying what is happening right now. Rather than worrying what might happen in a year’s time (what if I still don’t have a dog in my life?) and just going with it. Come back to me in a couple of weeks’ time when I am having a scheduled existential crisis and remind me of this?

“Women aren’t funny…”

I had dinner with some people I haven’t seen in a couple of years recently. I say people because calling them friends might be a little bit of a push. They are the people you grow up with, that your parents thought you would always end up marrying and even now, when you say you passed them in the street your mum still says, “Oh how are **** they are such a nice boy you should go for drinks and catch up” even though she’s not seen them since they outgrew nappies and starting thinking with their dick rather than their brain.

Yet, after bumping into one of them in the Aldi alcohol aisle (brilliant) they informed me that they were having a post- uni reunion and did I want to come. I don’t know if it was out of sheer desire to get away from the conversation or I simply blacked out but I said yes, grabbed the closest bottle of red (yuck) and ran for the tills. Never in my life have I been so happy with how erratic and stressful the cashiers are at Aldi.

So, there I was of a Wednesday evening sat at one of their dinner tables like we were in our 40’s and above going to the pub, wondering why I was missing The Apprentice. I had done the whole ‘yes I am out of uni but I am really fine that I’ve not got anything full time right now, I am taking time for my writing’ spiel that at this point I have perfected and was looking into my glass as if it was going to magically refill itself when one of the boyfriends posed a question to the rest of the table. “Guys we had a massive argument last night, **** forced me to watch Katherine Ryan’s stand up show, female comedians just aren’t funny. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Realistically, this was a great opportunity to thank the host for the mediocre uni food and lack of wine/ conversation and leave. But no I just sat there, no one spoke. I felt comforted in the silence, thank god this archaic, false, shitty statement wasn’t going to be given any sort of attention let alone agreement.

But then… two people agreed. “Yes it is gutter talk, they think one night stands are funny and they have nothing else to say so they just draw attention to the fact that they are fat and/or single” one of the girls said. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

After refilling my glass three more times and essentially having a shouting match with the instigator of the conversation about the genius of Tina Fey and Mindy Kalings writing silence fell on the room again and wasn’t lifted until someone decided it was probably time to leave.

Nevertheless, and I really hate to say it, this stupid notion of women not being as funny as men purely because they are incapable of being as quick and witty really got under my skin. It wasn’t just wine rage, it genuinely bothered me.

2017 was a dark year to be a woman and yet they are still breaking the glass ceiling one joke at a time. Take my life guru, Amy Schumer for example. From her book, ‘Girl with a Lower Back Tattoo’ to generally anything that comes out of her mouth, she is smart, so quick and completely hilarious. Her Netflix stand up show and a glass of wine is the perfect remedy to a shitty day or a night in with friends. Also see Aparna Nancherla, Ellie Kemper, Tig Notaro, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jenny Slate, Tracee Ellis Ross, Melissa McCarthy, Michaela Coel, Lena Waithe (I could go on).

It turns out you can be funny and have tits…all at the same time. Mind. Blown. And with regard to subject matter should women avoid talking about their life experiences in case it offends the men folk? Dating, periods, feminism, and sex completely off bounds? Hell no, you turn on any panel quiz show or turn up to any comedy club and male comics will joke about wanking or dating like it is going out of fashion, but mention menstruation once and you might as well book your uber and get back to your housewife duties.

I am so happy that wherever I am I can watch women like Sarah Silverman or Katherine Ryan or see the works of Kristin Wiig or Jenni Konner but I don’t need them to know for sure that you can have a vagina and be hilarious.

I am bias but you only have to scroll up any group chats on my phone- all very aptly named(any excuse for a beverage, cheap dirty whores, hysterical house you get the picture) to see that women are funny. We are surrounded by them (or at least I am) and that is something I am eternally grateful for. Can we throw away this archaic notion that women aren’t funny with the sex pests and harassers of 2017 please?

In the words of our matriarchs, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, “it’s an impressively arrogant move to conclude that just because you don’t like something, it’s empirically not good. I don’t like Chinese food, but I don’t write articles trying to prove it doesn’t exist.”

Where you’ll find me in Manchester

It is the sad truth that on the whole we don’t explore our home city like we would other cities. I spent a couple of days in London last week and around an interview I managed to squeeze in dinner with a friend and lunch with another, a mooch/shop around Carnaby Street, visiting the protest exhibition at the Saatchi and a wander around Nottinghill. This is more than I’d ever do at home in Manchester. Yet Manchester holds such a place in my heart; from its architecture, music scene, personal style and dirty sense of humour.

After returning home from my little London adventure a friend asked if I wanted to go and grab a coffee, I obviously agreed. Sitting there in the Northern Quarter on a Sunday lunch time watching people debate, read, catch up with old friends or nursing a hangover over great brunch and even better coffee it really reminded me why it is my city.

So for anyone who is thinking of exploring Manchester a little more, local or not, I thought I would share my five favourite places in the city…(upon writing this you’ll have to excuse the fact that most of these places generally involve eating or drinking- my two great loves, but what’s so wrong with that)

  • Coffee Shops

You know me, I couldn’t pick one. We are so lucky in Manchester to be spoilt with so many great, quirky independent coffee shops spread out all over the city. I blame my inherent need for coffee for the fact that I was a) brought up by my dad and b) have always been spoilt for choice by really cool coffee spots. Whether you need a snug space to catch up on some emails of a rainy autumn afternoon or spend hours talking to friend Manchester has you sorted.

If I really had to narrow my favourite down I think Takk, a coffee house on Tarriff Street would take it. A short walk from Piccadilly on the edge of the Northern Quarter, Nordic inspired Takk is the perfect creative space to get some work done, work out your own ideas in your head or catch up with friends. Serving their own Nordic Style espresso (North Projekt), roasted at Clifton Coffee in Bristol, this really is the best cup of coffee and potentially my favourite space in the city.takk.jpg

  • Ezra and Gil

I feel a bit naughty, like I have cheated here because Ezra and Gil is definitely up there as one of my favourite coffee shops, but it is more than that too. If you are in the city of a weekend (or any day of the week) and are in dire need of some brunch, as I so often am, then Ezra and Gil is your spot. Selling the best poached eggs I have ever tasted (believe me I have done my research) and delicious cakes, Ezra and Gil is one of my favourite places to get myself set up to do a little bit of writing over many flat whites and some tasty treats. It also has an adjoining delicatessen where you can buy magazines and all of the provisions you need. The staff are super friendly and it is in the heart of the Northern Quarter, definitely somewhere to check out.ezraandgil.jpg

  • Afflecks

I couldn’t write a list of my favourite places in Manchester without mentioning Afflecks. Formerly known as Affecks Palace I spent many a weekend as a 14 year old wandering around the boutiques, stalls and small shops deliberating how much my parents would kill me if I came home with a nose ring (sorry mum and dad). Now, I love sitting in the little Vegan Café they have on the third floor, mooching around Magma which houses all of the magazines you can imagine- perfect for raiding when I need a bit of inspiration and I have to give a shout out to Sour Cherry, an independent handmade jewellery business. Situated on the second floor you can buy anything from pom pom earrings, feminist tees and the perfect gifts.Afflecks-Hero.jpg

  • Proper Tea

Just opposite the Cathedral sits Proper Tea. Offering afternoon high tea, loose leaf teas and amazing cakes and scones, Proper Tea is super cosy and so quaint. After going on the recommendation of my mum it is now one of my favourite places to meet people. It has a really homely vibe; like sitting in your living room only with good tea and gorgeous cakes.IMG_6911.png

  • The Frog and Bucket

I am a massive champion for Manchester’s Night Life. Whether you’re wanting an evening in a little pub, drinks in a bar or to go ‘out-out’, Manchester has it down. However, instead of talking about my favourite drinking spots (because we’d be here all night) I thought I would talk about my favourite alternative night out, The Frog and Bucket. Now, granted I usually end up ‘out-out’ afterwards, The Frog and Bucket, on Oldham Street, is Manchester’s original and longest running Alternative Comedy Venue, showcasing the very best in national and international comedy Thursday through Saturday. Helping launch the careers of Peter Kay, Jason Manford and Johnny Vegas, it is usually packed out now and you’ll be sure to have a laugh. Whether you want to do a bit of stand up yourself or watch others over a pint and really good food The Frog and Bucket is a great way to spend a Friday night.

 

 

Who is this ‘real’ woman?

I was out a couple of weekends ago with some friends. My glass had run dry and in serious need of another gin and tonic (always) I was stood patiently at the bar, generally minding my own business and trying to catch the eye of the barman without being one of those annoying ‘card tappers’.

A man came and stood next to me, tapping his card on the bar- obviously I should have known he was going to be the worst kind of person. He then struck up a conversation about how difficult it was to get served (he had been stood there for a grand total of 30 seconds). After a moment of silence he turned to me and uttered the five words no one wants to hear, “can I just say something?” I should have said “no you cannot” because no one says that unless they’re about to say something outlandishly forward or inappropriate. Whilst addressing my tits he announced, “I love the way your top looks, you’re a real woman.”

A real woman. Not a chocolate woman? Not a figure of somebodies imagination? No, very real and very much a woman.

What does that mean because it is everywhere? Dove ran a whole campaign on the real woman. Apparently we should herald these real women as the ideal. So what attributes make you a real woman?

Do you have to be curvy- anything over a size 10 is preferable? Do you have to have a peachy bum and perk tits? No self-esteem or opinions? Shiny long hair and not too much make up? A body made in the gym? A vagina? Or self-identify as a woman?

I know I am being pernickety and I know the term ‘real’ women is striving to be inclusive but surely it would be more helpful to just talk about women. Period.

Telling a women she isn’t real because she is starving herself in the name of beauty, wears more makeup than you would like or has decided to get massive fake boobs doesn’t do a lot in the way of changing our perceptions of what the ideal body is. It is just shaming another group of women who probably don’t need any more judgement than they already give themselves.

The whole ‘real woman’ compliment comes from the same school of flirting as “you’re not like other girls”. Which girls? Have you met all of the girls? Was there a party? Why wasn’t I invited? Because I’m not like them? No you’re wrong I am in fact striving to be an amalgamation of every girl and woman I have ever met or seen and thought ‘she is pretty cool’. I am exactly like other girls.

Real doesn’t equate to better. I know we like to think we live in an accepting progressive society but with the growth of social media ideal images of women are being pushed even harder than ever before. I don’t understand how replacing the ‘size 0’ ideal of the noughties with the curvier ‘real woman’ is helpful at all. Someone is still being shamed.

In reality, empowered women are sexy. It doesn’t matter what you look like. Real women are size 6 and size 16, they’re mean and super thoughtful, great in bed and have crippling insecurities, are on a lifelong mission to find the perfect smart casual dress, cry because they love their friends so much every time they get drunk, work really bloody hard but play harder. They’re every woman.