Thursday, 27 April 2017

For politics.co.uk: a vote for Theresa May is not a vote for women

I had a look for politics.co.uk at Theresa May's record on women's issues - including her and her government's work on male violence against women, reproductive rights, poverty and refugee rights.

I was not impressed although there is some good stuff in there.

Have a read.

Friday, 21 April 2017

For OD 50 50: The Things I Would Tell You review

I reviewed The Things I Would Tell You, ed by Sabrina Mahfouz, for OD 50:50

Have a read.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

For politics.co.uk: The good side of a bad policy: Harsh migration law blocks forced marriages

I wrote for politics.co.uk about how the minimum income requirement on the spousal visa law could be having an impact on reducing forced or early marriage.

Have a read.

Monday, 17 April 2017

For the New Statesman: How Romania's feminists are fighting back

Check me out - lead story on the New Statesman website!


Yes, I wrote about the feminist movement in Romania with particular focus on the fight back against a rise in anti-abortion rhetoric.

Have a read

Now to find someone to commission me to write something big on feminism in Romania with a fully expenses paid trip to Bucharest...

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Interview with Epigram magazine

I talked to Epigram magazine about writing, the residency, politics and feminism.

Includes bonus sneak preview of my favourite sentence of the Paris Book.

Have a read!

Friday, 7 April 2017

For politics.co.uk: The government's rape clause is a callous attack on victims

The headline says it all!

I wrote a (and I quote) 'sustained, forensic morally clear-sighted outraged' piece about the Conservative government's cut to child tax credits and its resultant rape clause.

Please read this. The treatment of vulnerable women by this government is truly truly shocking. To the point where I had to go back and re-check the source because I simply struggled to believe that this law could be real.

It is.

Have a read.

For OD 50:50 - a review of Cordelia Fine's Testosterone Rex

I was very lucky to interview the brilliant Cordelia Fine during her whistle-stop UK book tour.

This was the result.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

On being a woman, on her own, at night

I’ve had a really bad run on street harassment lately. 

Really bad.

There was the drunk man in Bedminster Asda. Then, a couple of weeks ago, a guy started following me at Gaol Ferry Bridge. Not only was this startlingly reminiscent of when I was chased through King’s Cross Station, it was the moment of panic that if I got caught at the pedestrian crossing he would catch up with me. Luckily there was no traffic, I got across, took a longer, better-lit route home, and then moaned about it on Twitter.

Yesterday on the train home from London I sat next to a drunk man. He was really pissed but he was friendly enough. When I asked him to move to let me off at my stop, he clamped his hand on my thigh to haul himself to standing. It was drunken rather than malicious but let’s be honest, he wouldn’t have used me as a prop if I were a bloke. 

Then on the way home from the station a group of very drunk teenagers confronted me as I walked down East St, the lad yelling ‘woah look at her’ etc and then hit me in the face. (note: he didn’t slap or punch me, this was no black eye or bloody nose incident - he hit his hand against my glasses in a drunken weird swing. He hit me in the face but not hard.)

I flipped out, of course I did. Swore at them and asked them what the fuck they were doing. As always happens, they just laughed at me and mimicked my stupid high voice and then yelled at me to fuck off. The rest of the walk home I just tried not to cry because I didn’t want to look vulnerable. When I got home I poured a large glass of wine and moaned about it on Twitter

I’ve been trying to work out why it’s been so bad recently. I can’t blame Brexit and Trump for everything. And then last night it hit me. It’s since I started living on my own. 

When I lived with my ex boyfriend, about 2/3 - 3/4 of the times I was out at night, I was walking with him. Men don’t harass you when other men are around. Once a group of lads started harassing me, realised I was with my then boyfriend, and apologised to *him*. They didn’t want to encroach on his property after all! The fact that men don’t harass women in front of other men is one of the issues we have in being believed…

Now when I am out on the streets at night I am on my own. There’s no man to shield me. So of course I am noticing that I am getting harassed a lot more. 

I’m so fed up.

Because what can I do? I can’t afford to get taxis everywhere. I simply can’t. Buses in Bristol are stupidly expensive too, and not very reliable. Walking is my best mode of getting around. I don’t want to have to spend money that I don’t have because as a woman on my own in the city I am a target for harassment and violence. 

Also, I *like* walking. It’s my main form of exercise. I love walking through the city in the day and night - I want to be able to walk home after sitting on a train for two hours or in the office for eight. I want to walk home from the pub instead of having to negotiate taxi drivers or bus timetables, searching for pound coins, getting annoyed by drunk passengers. I shouldn’t be denied the freedom to walk around. And I certainly shouldn't have to spend money because of men’s violent behaviour towards women. Men don’t have to spend this money. Men don’t have to take themselves off the streets. 

I just feel so beaten down by it. I’m so exhausted by it. I was fourteen years old the first time men harassed me on the street. I’m 32 now. That’s 18 years. 18 years of being yelled at and groped and now hit. 

It shakes you up, too. 

Take this morning. I’m writing this having come home from the supermarket. On the way back, a man bowled out a pub doorway straight into me, gave me a filthy look, so I apologised to him. And then I started crying. Not because I’m weak or a wuss. But because I am knackered. I am exhausted of having to negotiate space all the time - of having to move out the way, of having to make myself small, of having to apologise for taking up public space, of having to endlessly consider the best way home, the safest route, of having to endlessly think about what I’m wearing and what I’m doing and who is looking. 

I can’t afford to taxi and bus everywhere. I don’t want to. I shouldn’t have to give up walking. 

A couple of years ago I went to an event where Iain Sinclair and Matthew Beaumont talked about walking in the city at night. 

Sinclair in particular talked about the freedom of night-walking, the anonymity it gives you, the fact that when you walk at night you move unseen, an observer. The ultimate flaneur. 

Thinking about that talk makes me want to cry again.

Imagine having that freedom. Imagine how it must feel to walk around feeling anonymous and confident and watching everyone else. 

Imagine having that privilege. 

Imagine having that unquestioned right. 

I can’t. 


I’m so tired of it. 

Update: On advice from a few friends, I decided to report this to the police. Not that I expect them to do anything, but because at least then it is noted that this sort of thing happens to women, and is recognised as not acceptable. I never report anything but actually in this case he did hit my face, and the things that happen to women should be noted down somewhere, surely? So yes, feels a bit odd to have done so but it can't harm. 

Another update: the police emailed me to say the report 'will be filed pending any positive line of enquiry coming to light.' 

Sorry Washington Post, but we do need the vagina as a symbol of protest

On the 21st January 2017, women in every continent gathered on the streets to protest the election of Donald Trump - a man who boasted of grabbing pussies, was accused by over a dozen women of sexual assault, was accused of child rape, and was accused of rape by his ex-wife (she later retracted the claim saying he didn’t do it in a criminal way). I was there - raising my voice against the men who try to silence us through violence. 

Many of the women on the global marches wore ‘pussy hats’. These handmade pink hats were designed as a rebuke to the dehumanising, sexually violent language of Trump. They were a symbol against the very specific assault of this presidency against women’s bodies - from the pussies he grabbed to the wombs he immediately legislated against

The wearing of the pussy hats was important to so many women, as quoted in Paul Mason’s report from the march: 

“I can’t stand the colour pink, and that hat looks really shitty on me. But right now it’s my most precious material possession. I’m betting there are lots of people out there who will look at their hats and remember that they need to do something – not just today, but tomorrow and the next.”

A week later, I was on another march - this time protesting the anti-Muslim ban. One protest in another city requested that attendees left their pussy hats and uterus-emblazoned placards at home, over concerns that they were ‘exclusionary’. 

I was going to write about this at the time, but I’ve been writing a novel so haven’t done much political blogging. However, this issue raised its head again this week, with an op-ed in the Washington Post by Phoebe Maltz Bovy. In her article, Maltz Bovy asks us to drop the vagina as a protest symbol. She again cites the idea that it’s exclusionary (‘The obvious problem with vagina-motif protest is that it leaves out some women’); and that the use of vagina erases women’s experiences:

“The vast majority of women do indeed have vaginas, but they aren’t preoccupied by that fact day to day. Vagina possession doesn’t explain why Mary voices an idea in a meeting but the boss listens only when Jim repeats it. When Kate does the dishes again, it isn’t because Bob’s genitalia prevented him from loading the dishwasher. Yes, reproduction and child-care-related issues, not to mention sexual assault and domestic abuse, disproportionately affect women, and often involve women’s genitals. But even the women’s issues with some relationship to female anatomy aren’t really about vaginas.”

In her extraordinary book, When I Hit You, Meena Kandasamy describes repeated brutal rape by her husband:

When I’m through, what you have will be torn and tattered […] This is the aim of his rapes, all this rough sex. Not just a disciplining, but a disabling”

I include this quote to make the point that talking about our vaginas and what men do to them is important, that there’s a reason so much male violence is centred on our vaginas and wombs (pregnancy is a real risk factor in DVA). Biology is not destiny - that is a key demand of feminism. What this means is that so far, men’s oppression of women has been tied up absolutely in biology. The feminist fight is the fight to liberate ourselves from this oppression. We can’t do that, however, unless we are allowed to talk about it. 

After all, there’s a reason the American Senate tried to ban the word ‘vagina’ in their debates. 

The fact is, I would love it if we could drop the vagina as a protest symbol. I would love it if we could retire our placards shouting ‘get your rosaries off my ovaries.’ Do you think I’m not sick of this shit? Do you think I want to carry on shouting about my vagina and what men think they are entitled to do to it? Do you think I want to carry on waving a metal coat hanger in the air and demanding my reproductive rights? No! I want to finish my novel! 

It wasn’t us who made it about our wombs and vaginas. It wasn’t us who created the reason for our pussy hats. 

It was Trump.

Trump, and all the men around him. 

Trump made it about our pussies when he boasted about grabbing them.

He made it about our wombs when he signed away abortion support for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable women. When his Freedom Caucus got together and signed away funding for maternal healthcare. When attacks on Planned Parenthood mean attacks on abortion rights, as well as care for ovarian and cervical cancer. 

Men make it about our pussies when they rape 1500 women in the UK every week. 

Men make it about our uteruses when they force women and girls to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. 

Men make it about our genitals when in slums across the developing world, women are raped and assaulted as they go to the toilet. 

Men make it about our genitals when they say a good woman is a cut woman. 

Men make it about our genitals and wombs when they tax tampons and use the money to fund anti-choice organisations

I am a fervent and true supporter of inclusivity and I know that the proposed bans on pussy hats came from a well-meaning place of ensuring trans and non binary people did not feel excluded. 

This matters. We need to practice intersectionality as feminists and we need to make sure we are inclusive and kind. But when we try and ban mention of pussies and vaginas and wombs in the name of inclusivity, we are in fact ignoring how the attacks on women’s bodies and bodily autonomy is in itself an act of exclusion.

All the issues I cite above are centred in intersectional feminism - from the fact that wealth and class privilege makes it easier to access abortion in countries where it is criminalised, to the dangers of going to the toilet for women in the global south. This latter issue is so, so ignored, by the way.

Take the abortion ban in Ireland. For women carrying to term a foetus with a fatal abnormality, they are literally locked into their homes. They can’t go out because of the trauma involved in having to either repeatedly explain to people that their baby will die, or lie about it. The laws on abortion exclude women from society. 

Or take the abortion ban everywhere. Women die every day because they cannot access safe, legal abortion. Male lawmakers’ obsession with women’s wombs excludes women in that it kills us. 

The rapes and attacks on women that happen every day in every corner of the world seek to exclude women from public space - and again, these attacks exclude us absolutely when male violence kills us. 

Language matters. 

We have to be able to name what happens to us. We have to be able to name the body parts that are under attack by male power and male violence. We have to be able to say that men attack our pussies and vaginas; that men legislate against our uteruses; that men do this because we are women and our oppression is a biological oppression. 

There was a case of mass rape in Bolivia where women couldn’t accuse their perpetrators because they had never been taught the names of their genitals. They couldn’t describe what had happened to them because they didn’t have the word ‘vagina’. This lack of language excluded them from justice. 

Women’s bodies have been unspeakable for so long. We have been denied a voice to name our oppression for so long. 

That’s why as long as men try and attack my vagina and the vaginas of my sisters, then I will shout the word as loud as I can. As long as men try and attack my womb and the womb of my sisters, then I will shout the word as loud as I can. 

To name the attacks on our vaginas and wombs is not exclusionary. 


To try and deny women the language to speak about what patriarchy does to us - that really is. 

Friday, 31 March 2017

For The Modernist Review: modernism, Paris and the women of the Left Bank

I spoke to the Modernist Review about Stein, my fascination with the 1920s Left Bank Women, and my residency at Spike Island.

Have a read!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

For Wales Arts Review: The Meaning of International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day everyone!

I contributed to this piece on Wales Arts Review about the meaning of IWD and what it means to me.

And remember, I'll be writer-in-residence at Wales Arts Review during July writing about issues around the refugee crisis.

Have a read.

Monday, 6 March 2017

For Bristol Festival of Ideas: in conversation with Nimko Ali

On Thursday 25 May you can come and see me and Nimko Ali talk about vaginas as part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas.

What a treat!

Of course we won't just be talking about vaginas. We'll be talking about Nimko's amazing history of activism, her huge achievements in the fight to end FGM, the importance of having open and honest conversations about women's bodies and lives... and no doubt we'll have a giggle and perhaps shed a few tears too.

To book your tickets, visit the Bristol Festival of Ideas.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

For Open Democracy 50 50: Should domestic abuse have its own law?

I wrote this for Open Democracy 5050 on whether domestic abuse should have its own law.

I'm really proud of it, I think it's a really important piece and I hope you share this view!

A huge thank you to Harriet Wistrich, Olivia Piercy and Naomi for talking to me.

Have a read and please share

Friday, 17 February 2017

Amnesty International asked about online abuse. Here's what I had to say.

Amnesty International put a call out on Twitter asking women about their experiences of online abuse. Here's what I sent to them...

The incident I reported to the police happened on Facebook. I'd been involved in a campaign around the normalisation of sexual objectification in Bristol, which had attracted a lot of local press attention. I was the spokesperson so was very visible. Things built up and eventually a young man posted on Facebook that I was a cunt, he was going to post my address details online and 'make me pay'. I wrote about this for the Guardian at the time.

Another man joked about kicking me in the vagina.

That's the stand out incident, but online abuse happens all the time. I wrote about abortion issues and I had a man call me a 'fucking baby killer'. This particular individual targeted me repeatedly, commenting on every blogpost I wrote. He'd start off polite then it would build up until he'd call me names such as 'fucking feminazi bitch'

He had a really common name. Every time I saw that name afterwards it would make me really uncomfortable. Once I saw his name in a conference line-up and had a real triggered reaction. It wasn't the same man but the same name. I know the man who used to comment on my blog worked in academia and it bothers me that he might work with students when his attitudes to women are so disgusting and violent.

I wrote about Fathers 4 Justice and a man in the comments said he hoped 'some cunt raped' me, because I was a 'fucking fascist'.

More recently I've experienced the 'pile on'. I tweeted a joke about Boris Johnson and had around 200 @ messages in an hour ranging from the mild (of the 'you stupid feminist bitch' variety) to the obscene (men saying what they would do to me sexually). On another occasion I deleted a tweet after within 5 minutes I had 5 @ messages all quoting the tweet, and all the avatars were naked pictures of men.

More recently I tweeted about an Amazon advert and a man told me to drink a bottle of floor cleaner, alongside the usual sexist slurs.

The scary thing about pile-ons is you don't know when they will stop. After the Boris Johnson joke I was still getting unpleasant messages 24 hours later. You feel very vulnerable, you feel like this is it now, it's never going to stop.

I feel that when people excuse men's behaviour online, they resort to the line 'he didn't think you were a real person, it's just online so it's not real'. I think this is nonsense. It is just another form of victim blaming. It re-enforces the message that women are not human. It says that women cause the problem by being online.

I've had rape threats, death threats, threats to my safety, been called names, had men send obscene images, had men fantasise about what they would do to me sexually. They didn't do this thinking it wasn't real. They did this to bully, intimidate and most importantly of all to silence me.

I won't be silenced.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

How the Remain campaign broke all the rules of advertising

So last night parliament voted that we would trigger Article 50 with none of the amendments proposed - including amendments that would guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, and protect the Good Friday agreement. 

There’s a lot of anger flying around today. A lot of people angry with Corbyn and Labour, a lot of people angry with May and the Tories, a lot of people angry with UKIP and Farage. And, I imagine, a lot of people are thrilled with May and the Tories and with UKIP and Farage and, to be honest, ambivalent about Corbyn and Labour. 

I’m angry, though. And today I am particularly angry with David Cameron for calling the blasted referendum in the first place - a man whose arrogance and hubris led him to stake the future of the country on an internal party battle that barely anyone outside of the Commons Back Benches gave a flying fuck about. 

And I’m angry with the Remain gang for their lack-lustre, doom-laden campaign in the run-up to the 23rd June. I’m angry with them because they could have won the referendum. They just needed to hire a decent advertising agency. 

So here is my post about how I could have won the EU Referendum, if the Remain campaign had hired a fundraising copywriter from Bristol

I’d start with this picture:



This is a picture of me and my niece the day she was born. My sister-in-law is Romanian. Thanks to the free movement of people, my beautiful niece and nephew are in my life. My family is made richer because of the EU. My nephew’s school is made brighter with him in it. In the future, my niece and nephew will get jobs that will bring money into the UK economy. Already, their childish needs are causing us all to spend money (mostly on lego) - strengthening the UK economy. Who knows what their futures will hold, who knows what contributions they will make to our country. 

Who knows what futures in the UK will be lost now, when we leave the EU and new families can’t be made, new romances will never blossom, new babies will not be born and new futures will not develop and grow. 

In the 2012 film NO starring the delightful Gael Garcia-Bernal, Chile calls a referendum on whether Pinochet should stand down. The No campaign (calling for Pinochet to go) immediately start putting ads together showcasing the terrible human rights abuses perpetuated by the Chilean government. They put together showreels of mass graves and torture prisons. It was horrible. It was depressing. It was never going to win votes. 

Enter Gael Garcia-Bernal. He proposed a campaign that would show what life would be like without Pinochet. He shot films of families having wonderful days out. He created a vision of freedom. He suggested a better world, a happier world, where everyone had a voice and a life of their own to live and love. He promised a better future. 

'No' won the referendum. 

People voted for a better future. 

This is what the Remain campaign should have done. 

Not just a picture of my niece. 

But a case study of a cancer patient whose life-saving treatment was funded by EU money. 

Of a crime survivor whose perpetrator was arrested thanks to cross EU participation. 

Of an artist or writer or film maker whose work was produced with the help of EU funds.

Of a farmer who was able to expand their agriculture business because of EU subsidies. 

Of a student completing a placement in Venice. 

Of a worker collaborating with a team in Bucharest. 

Of a pensioner enjoying retirement in Spain. 

Of a couple finding their way around France using 3G without roaming charges. 

They should have celebrated how being part of Europe enriched the UK. They should have told the positive story. The story of families brought together, of jobs created, of creative arts enriched, of science advanced.

They should have sold us a future we could believe in and vote for. 

The EU wasn’t perfect. Isn’t perfect. Remain and reform - that’s what was needed (although my reforms probably not the ones Cameron was after). And I know my layers of protective privilege mean that I have not been impacted by the problems EU membership can cause.  

But the Remain campaign did nothing to tell us why we should stay in the EU. All they did was tell us how much we would suffer if we left. They were giving us the mass graves of the Chilean campaign, while the Leave guys played the Gael-Garcia Bernal game. 

Having worked in advertising for nearly a decade, I have learnt a thing or two. And one of the things we all know is that you don’t try and sell things by telling people how bad everything is. You don’t sell a car by saying the other cars are shit. You sell a car by making people think that the car will make them better, sexier, cooler, faster, dreamier. You sell on the benefits of your car, not the failings of the competitor.  

The same applies for fundraising advertising. Sometimes you fundraise with upsetting images or heartbreaking stories. But successful fundraising never leads on ‘give now or the kid gets it.’ You tell a positive story about what a person’s donation can achieve. You tell them about the child’s transformed life - you show them the difference school can make, you show a child happy and healthy drinking clean water. You don’t say everything will be awful if you don’t give. You say everything will be better if you do give. 

The Remain campaign broke every single simple rule of advertising. They led on dire predictions. They sold Remain as the lesser of two evils. Rather than selling Remain as something that would be good for the UK, they focused on how Leave would be bad for the UK. 

No one votes for something because it might be shit but probably not as shit as the other thing. No one buys a car because it might break down but probably won’t break down as much as the other one. No one gives to charity because the kid might die but then again she might not. 

You vote for something because you believe it will bring a better future. You buy a car because you think it’ll make you look better. You give to charity because you believe it’ll transform a life. 

Of course, a better ad campaign would not have changed the minds of those determined to vote Brexit. But there were people who were on the fence, who might have had their minds changed to Remain. They were let down by a weak, lack lustre, doom-laden advertising campaign. They were not given something to vote for. 

As we face a Tory Hard Brexit, I feel so angry with how badly the Remain campaign let this country down with their predictions of World War Three and economic meltdown. 

It would have been so easy to tell the positive story of Remain. To celebrate the EU and good things it brings. 


They failed. 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Interview in Bristol 24/7

Lovely lovely Joe Melia interviewed me about the Spike Island residency for Bristol 24/7

It''s also in the print edition so look out for my face lurking around...

Have a read

Saturday, 28 January 2017

New book: ...and Paris is my hometown

Exciting news!

As part of my Spike Island residency, I have published an eBook of biographical essays about the women of 1920s Paris.

It's called ...and Paris is my hometown

which is a Gertrude Stein quote.



The majority of the essays were published by The Heroine Collective throughout 2016 and I am very grateful to their lovely editor Kate Kerrow for contributing the Foreword to the collection. There are some extra exciting tidbits in the anthology though so it's worth your time!

...and Paris is my hometown includes essays celebrating the life and work of Gertrude Stein, Colette, Sylvia Beach, Josephine Baker, Kiki de Montparnasse and many, many more.

Please purchase the book today.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

For Trump supporters, freedom of speech was only ever for straight, white men

Ten years ago today I set up my blog! To celebrate my Ten Year Blog-a-versary I am writing about freedom of speech, which I am exercising by writing this blog. 

The signs were there. Of course they were. When Putin, Erdogan and Sisi – leaders known for locking up journalists at alarming rates – are among the first to congratulate your Presidency, attacks on freedom of speech won’t be far behind. 

Still, day four? 


Before I went to bed last night, I saw that journalists in the USA had been arrested during the protests on Friday 20 January. These journalists were doing their job: reporting and recording a news story. Whatever happens next in their case, it’ll be harder now for journalists to report on protest in the USA. It’ll be riskier, and so fewer protests will be recorded.

Around the same time, Trump’s administration banned employees of the Environmental Protection Agency from posting on social media. As a result, environmentalists have ‘gone rogue’ in a strange new world where ‘going rogue’ means using your professional social media account to tweet facts about the environment. Trump has done this in part to keep things quiet about the Dakota pipeline  – a development he has business interests in and which will do terrible harm to the environment and wreck First Nation land.

The signs were there.

Freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech was always, it seemed, so important to Trump supporters. When you condemned them for sending racist and sexist abuse to a woman who had the temerity to be funny in an 80s movie remake, they yelled ‘freedom of speech!’ at you. When you pointed out that Breitbart was a cesspit of racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic lies, they yelled ‘freedom of speech!’ at you. When you asked them not to send rape threats to women gamers, or suggested they didn’t scream ‘lock up the bitch’ about HRC, they yelled ‘freedom of speech’ at you. They condemned political correctness as an attack on freedom of speech. They liked Trump for ‘saying the unsayable’ – as if saying racist and sexist lies have ever been ‘edgy’, have ever been anything but the norm.

But to these Trump supporters, freedom of speech only ever meant freedom of speech for one group of people: privileged straight white men.

They saw freedom and liberty as a zero sum game. And when women, people of colour and the LGBT community raised their voices and claimed their right for freedom of speech, they saw it as an attack on their so-called freedom to use language to abuse, intimidate and threaten oppressed communities.

They support Trump because they see anyone else being given freedom of speech as an attack on their freedom of speech. They see other groups using their voices in protest, in solidarity, in honesty, as an attack on them. Now Trump’s policies are sending a clear message: he will repress freedom of speech. Where is their defence of this fundamental right now?

It’s not just journalist arrests and bans on tweeting.

Trump’s reinstatement of the global gag rule denies women the speech to say ‘I need reproductive healthcare’ and denies charities the speech to say ‘we can support you in that.’ It denies freedom of speech to women all over the world, the speech to say their bodies are their own. Ultimately, this ruling will lead to more women dying – silencing them totally.

Trump’s signing of an executive order to ban visas to people from Iran and war-torn countries including Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Iraq denies freedom of speech to people asking for safety, for support, for a home. It denies freedom to those who already have their basic freedoms under attack.

And the Texas Supreme Court’s proposal to roll back on equal marriage rights denies gay people the freedom of speech to say ‘I love you’ and ‘I do’ in public, before friends and family.

All those Trump supporters screaming freedom of speech to yell ‘kill the bitch’ at Hillary. All those Trump supporters screaming freedom of speech at Twitter for banning Milo. Where are their voices now, that freedom of speech is truly under threat?

They’re silent, of course.

They never believed in freedom of speech at all. They only ever wanted to silence the voices of those who for so long had been denied it.
 

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

For BBC Radio Bristol: Why we protest

I was on BBC Radio Bristol yesterday morning talking about why I joined the Women's March in London.

I would argue that it is impossible to have a sensible discussion with someone who compares being accused of sexual assault by multiple women is like being accused of not liking courgettes.

But that is the situation I found myself in.

I'm about 30-40 minutes into the show if you want to listen.

I also contributed to this piece in the Wales Arts Review on why we marched. 

For Open Democracy: Guapa by Saleem Haddad

I reviewed Haddad's excellent debut, Guapa, for Open Democracy.

It's a brilliant read about the LGBT community in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Have a read.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

A loud woman, a nasty woman, a woman who marches and won't be silenced

On Friday night, I watched Trump’s inauguration with my chin on the floor, tears drying on my cheeks, and then did what everyone would do after such an event: I went to the pub. 

Here, I had a conversation with a couple of men I knew about my decision to go on the Women’s March on Saturday 21 January. They were, shall we say, pessimistic, critical even, of my decision. One friend argued that the march was a waste of time - that it wasn’t my fight, that I was patronising American women. The election was done, the votes were counted, Trump is President. What, really, was the point of marching? What, really, was the point of shouting back?

I must have carried some of that with me on to the march. That sense that in all of this, my voice didn't really matter. Standing on Duke Street with my friends, gazing in awe at the number of women, men and children around me carrying placards with bright, smiling faces, I struggled to join in with the chants. I struggled to raise my voice. What was my voice, after all? What did my voice matter?

And then. 

I remembered Reclaim the Night, and the joy I felt in marching on those chilly winter evenings with my sisters.  

So I took a deep breath. Then another. 

And then I shouted as loud as I possibly could:

Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no.

The call caught on. Women joined in. Together we shouted this repudiation to the sexual assaults Trump boasted of committing against women. 

Two hours later, I felt the thrill of shouting down St James Street:

what do we want?

And hearing more than a hundred women answer me:

EQUALITY!

When do we want it?

NOW!

My voice. My quiet, high voice. The voice that one colleague once told me he tuned out of listening to. The laugh that one man told me was the most annoying laugh he’d ever heard. The voice that man after man online has declared I should just shut up. There was MY VOICE, loudly proudly ringing out in the centre of London, with hundreds of women joining in. 

When we’re told that marching on days like yesterday can achieve nothing, I wonder what our detractors think an achievement is. 

None of us marching are stupid. We know that at the sight of three million women and men on every continent, Trump isn’t going to shrug, resign and hand over to Hillary. We know that the march wasn’t about changing the result of the election. 

What marching achieved yesterday was a show of solidarity. A show of sisterhood. It achieved a demonstration that we, women across the world, were going to use our voices to challenge heteropatriarchy and white supremacy. It achieved a huge noise. And for every individual woman there, it achieved something else too: the knowledge and recognition that we have a voice and we are not afraid to use it. 

And that matters.

Because, as I’ve written before, a lot of men have a lot invested in women staying silent. 

They want us silent so we don’t report the violence they commit against us. They want us silent and passive and meek so that we don't challenge their power or their entitlement to women’s bodies. During the march, I spoke to a domestic abuse survivor who told me how her ex would target her throat - physically shutting her up. In my experience of online abuse, I know how much violent men like to focus on our mouths. Women’s silence is immensely valuable. So much depends on us keeping quiet. So much depends on us putting up and shutting up. 

They want us quiet. They want us meek. 

Well, yesterday we showed all of those who desire our silence that we won’t shut up. We won’t comply. We won’t be the women they want. 

We’ll be the women they don’t want. The loud women, the nasty women, the bolshy women who shout and yell and challenge and accuse and point the finger and fight back and speak, speak, speak. We’re the bloody, bloody-minded women. And yesterday we stood together and said we are not going to be quiet. We are not going to be quiet about sexual assault. We are not going to quiet as men attack our wombs and our rights over our own bodies. We are not going to be the women they want. We are going to be loud and angry and we are going to fight. 

When the men on Friday and the men on the internet tell us that this is not our fight, I say no. It is our fight. Because when a man sexually assaults one (or, allegedly, 12) of us, and gets away with it, that re-enforces the idea that men have free access and entitlement to every woman’s body, everywhere. When a group of men try and destroy the laws women have fought for, to take away the right to bodily autonomy of women in the States, then that sets a precedent to those fighting to destroy our rights everywhere. And, of course, Trump’s policies on climate change will hit the poorest women in the world first, and it will hit those women hardest. This is not just about America. We are all affected by this. Every woman has skin in this game. 

But even if we didn’t. It would still matter that we marched. Because when women across the world ask us for our sisterhood, when they ask us for our solidarity, we don’t ignore that call. We stand up. We reach out. We stretch our hands across borders and grasp theirs. 

Because they want us separate. They want us splintered. They want us turned against one another in a cat fight. 

And we will not be the women they want. We will be the angry, loud, bloody fighting women. We will stand together in solidarity against this attack. 

On Saturday, I raised my voice with LGBTQ women, women of colour, working class women, refugee women. I stood with my sisters and with men too. I heard women singing and women shouting and women reading poetry and women showcasing their art and women refusing to be silenced. I marched in solidarity with 100,000 women and men in London, and 3 million around the world, and it felt glorious. 

But one march is not enough. The energy, the noise, the fight continues now. As Angela Davis said in Washington yesterday: 

“The next 1,459 days of the Trump administration will be 1,459 days of resistance: Resistance on the ground, resistance in the classrooms, resistance on the job, resistance in our art and in our music.

"This is just the beginning “

We will resist. We will shout. We will be loud and angry and we will not be the women they want us to be. 

And if any man tells you that there is no point in marching, that there is no point to your voice, that this is not your fight, that you should put up and shut up?

Well then sisters: be like Madonna. 

And say to them: FUCK YOU





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.