#MeToo

#MeToo the viral hashtag that has been sweeping the web since early this week. In the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s rape allegations, this hashtag has been highlighting the issue of everyday sexism, sexual harassment and assaults, in a bid to show how widespread a problem it is.

For me it produced a slow burn of anger that has crested into a rage. Similar to most women speaking out I too have had the thought “well I’m lucky it wasn’t rape” even more damning and demeaning is the wondering whether I should be grateful for the male attention as I have told so often, I should be.

Grownup me resents that at school I didn’t speak out about the boy who grabbed my arse, cupping it to that his fingers were touching me intimately through my trousers, in order to humiliate me in front of my classmates. Sure, I kicked him for it but I didn’t take it further when I should have. Teaching at least one boy that touching a girl without her permission has consequences. Obviously that’s assuming there would be a consequence for this boy, which in most cases there isn’t. It’s possible that the phrase “Boys will be boys” could have been used. An idea that as a boy he has the right to act on all of his testosterone driven urges and that’s okay. I could have also have been too provocative in my duffel coat, school uniform (trousers not skirt) and sans makeup. I will never know what would have happened because I never reported it, because back then I didn’t know I could. I didn’t know that what had happened constituted as sexual assault. I hadn’t been raped, nothing penetrative has happened. All I knew was that I was touched sexually in a way designed to humiliate me and there was nothing I could do about it.

Young girls today are hopefully being educated better on these subjects as I hope too are young boys. It still surprises me though that some men are completely unaware that some of their behaviour is threatening. That a women has to think about walking anywhere alone as night as some sort of military manoeuvre. Shortest route vs. the most well lit path along main roads. Using keys between the fingers as a makeshift weapon. Knowing that if cornered or attacked screaming “Fire!” is more effective than “Rape!” Having your mobile phone in an easy to reach place and making sure it’s charged before going out. All these things just for walking alone at night.

The incident at school is not the only assault I have suffered through. As countless women will tell you there is very rarely just one instance of harassment or assault but rather, sometimes a daily minefield. My most terrifying was a huge guy in a club grabbing me as I was on my way to the bathroom. I was 18 at the time and had finished work in a bar in the town centre at 2am. I had been invited to go to another club after work and so I went, still wearing my black shirt and trousers from work. I’d been there for a while and had a few drinks, resulting in my needing the toilet. So off I went. On my way I was grabbed by a large guy. I’m 5ft 3″ most guys are large guys compared to me. He trapped my against a wall and began to tell me how pretty I was and how he would love to dance with me, and kiss me, and how I should stick around. I politely declined. I was on my way to the bathroom and had a boyfriend already. Thank you. Good Night. All very civilised way to disengage, not designed to anger this man in anyway. Even going so far as to thank him for the attention before I disappeared. Any way to get out of their safely. Unfortunately this does not always work. I was still trapped, politely trying to get away without making a scene. I spotted a female bouncer and tried to get her attention, tried to communicate silently that I wanted help to get away. I was shrugged off and left to fend for myself. Instead the guy started to grind himself against me and I tried desperately to get someone’s attention. He grabbed my face and kissed me, eventually he stopped and asked me to come back after I had been to the bathroom. I walked straight out of the club crying, my heart pounding. I felt guilty that I had let that happen. That I hadn’t done more to stop it. had hoped that he would leave me alone when I said no. I still feel ashamed to this day that I didn’t do more then. At 18 I was still too naive.

More recently, a guy I happened to glance over at a bar on a staffs work night out decided to plop himself onto the seat next to me at our table. I was sat with several guys from the office talking. The man was drunk, he was slurring and you could smell the alcohol. I didn’t look at him, I angled my body away. I crossed my arms. All the cues that I was not happy with him being sat there. The man shook the hands of the guys. He decided that he didn’t want a handshake from me. I glanced at him just in time to see his face looming, lips puckered, aiming to kiss my face. I finally did what I should have done back then. I put my hand up and said “No”. The guy had the gall to ask why I’d stopped him and I said “because it is sexual assault.” I will never forget his response. “I’m sorry that you feel that way”. I’m sorry that you feel that way, because I am supposed to be grateful that a strange man wants to kiss me. What hurt more though is that the men around me stayed silent. Not one came to my defence. I got up and went to the bathroom to escape hoping that when I came out he was gone. One of my female colleagues who had witnessed the whole thing went to the bar and told the bar staff and asked for his removal. When he had left and I had resumed my seat one of my male colleagues told me “he’s probably just drunk and lonely.” That’s what I should take away, that because a man is drunk and lonely he has every right to try and kiss a stranger who has barely acknowledged him. I left soon after to go home to my boyfriend who is just as angry with that reasoning as I am.

These are just the tip of my #MeToo stories, there are more but we would be here all night if I were to recount every time I had been catcalled, propositioned or inappropriately touched and grabbed. Ladies if you are reading this and have similar stories, speak out if you are able to, because we have let these trespasses slide for too long. Men if you are reading this and thinking “stop whining”, put yourself in our shoes and think if you would enjoy it. If you’re a man who has experienced this kind of behaviour please speak out, because it shouldn’t only work one way.

Dirty Dancing vs Grease

The other day my boyfriend and I got drunk on a school night (though we’re adults and don’t have kids), staying up ’til gone midnight watching films. Firstly I would like to say that this is not a regular occurrence, we had both had trying days and needed to unwind. The conversation meandered about, as it does when alcohol flows until we landed on the topic of female empowerment. My boyfriend owns his own comic book store and had written his review of Wonder Woman which we saw last weekend and we moved on to discussing other films with female leads. It is now common for female leads to be kickass at something usually reserved for masculine characters (Katniss in The Hunger Games for example). In the past it has been common for a woman to change her appearance or compromise her morals to be with the guy and this is where I came down on what I think is one of the biggest offenders Grease.

Grease takes Sandy and turns her from a pretty yet modest girl and has her take up smoking, dressing in revealing clothes and acting completely differently than plain old Sandra-Dee. The message here is change for the man you want, even if that man has previous sexually assaulted you at a Drive-In movie, and has more respect for his macho image than of you. While Danny does give some indication during the film of wanting to become a better guy for Sandy in the end he doesn’t have to as she decides to be more like what he wants. As a kid watching this film you sing-a-long to the catchy songs and get caught up in the love story. It’s not until I grew up that I realised just how warped that love story actually is and how damaging it could be to a developing psyche.

Now take Dirty Dancing, another classic film where you have a young girl who meets a boy, supposedly from the wrong side of the tracks. But here’s the difference, at no point does Baby change her morals to suit Johnny. She wants to help other people, damaging her relationship with her family and her reputation in the process. She doesn’t change, she just grows up and learns to defends her choices. Johnny though perceived as a bad guy is actually someone very similar in morals, who willingly takes the blame for Penny’s situation, rather than expose her to more scorn.

Both films also deal with women’s sexuality with Rizzo’s suspected pregnancy in Grease and how she is supposed to be demur, wait for marriage and “take cold showers everyday”. This is mirrored by Penny’s pregnancy and botched abortion in Dirty Dancing. Rizzo turns out not to be pregnant letting both herself and Kenicky off the hook, though in fairness it does highlight the damage it does to her reputation, whereas Dirty Dancing gives us the full consequences, not just for Penny but for the father of the child, who gets a bit of a comeuppance at the end of the film and finds his reputation tarnished.

All in all if I had to pick a favourite movie, Dirty Dancing would win hands down. Grease has it’s good songs but the message they promote isn’t really one I can get behind now. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

TTFN

What it is to be a woman on a night out

Once on a night out I was sat at a table outside the club with a few people from work. It was a Friday night and was getting on for about midnight. There was a guy there that I had only spoken to once before and he had been drinking heavily after hearing some bad news about a friend that day. At one point in the evening a young woman came over to collect the empty glasses on the table and this guy started talking to her, something along the lines of “You have a really pretty smile”. I watched this exchange and noted that the recipient seemed uncomfortable. When she had left I told him how it was a little bit creepy that he had said that. The response was that it was a compliment and should be taken as such at this point I tried to explain that it was unsolicited and delivered by a total stranger, one who was rather drunk. He started to get angry with me and told me to f*** off, which, to be quite honest, I did. I didn’t want to be around a guy who was trying to convince me that how I would feel, if I were in that woman’s shoes, was invalid.

The thing is, is like most women, I have been in that woman’s shoes. I have been touched and even once pinned against a wall and kissed against my will on night’s out. I have received “compliments” from guys who felt they could grab me and put me on their laps,  unable to do anything but wait it out and be polite to stop it potentially escalating into verbal or physical abuse, until I could make my escape.

Compliments from friends and family are fine, but when given by strange men then they take on an entirely different aspect. The woman must now assess, will he leave it at that? Will he try to follow me? Will he try to grab me? will he try to stop me leaving, or leave when I do and follow me? Could he be violent? What is my exit plan? Who can I call if I feel threatened? Which route should I take to the taxi ranch which won’t take me down dark low foot traffic streets? Do I have anything I could makeshift into a weapon?

The next time I saw this guy he was considerably less drunk and I was still very angry about the whole encounter and how my points had been dismissed. I raised the conversation and listed the above again and by the time I finished he looked bewildered. He had never had to think half these thoughts. He had never considered the idea that a stranger thinking they were being nice could, in a certain setting, be considered a catalyst for this level of panicked, strategic planning. He said he had meant the compliment sincerely and there was no other motive behind it, other than being nice to someone else. Yes fair enough, he didn’t have an ulterior motive, but what about the next guy or the one after that. We don’t get to be dismissive, to think #NotAllMen because it’s evidenced that #SomeMenDo.

Since this incident I have discussed this with several other men to get their opinions. Some have the same attitude as the above guy, that it’s just a compliment and nothing is sinister is meant about it, accept it (politely) and move on. Some have understood that they may never have felt this way themselves but had witnessed it happen to female friends or relatives, agreeing wholeheartedly that it is a problem that should be addressed.

There are very limited lessons on this topic out there though. It’s not something that is taught in schools. Sex education and the age we should begin teaching it is very much a hot-button topic. I am an advocate of starting young, and not just on the biology of sex, reproduction, and the prevention of STIs and pregnancy, but also on the many different types of relationships, the law, and rape culture. Teaching young people that a woman’s body is her own and not a sexual object, to be treated as such. I still remember as a sixth form student being told that we could not wear anything low cut, shorts or skirts that were too short or tops that showed any midriff off, in case we cause discomfort to the male teachers and other male pupils but I don’t recall it ever being mentioned that guys should make sure they wore their trousers around the waist and not around their knees when that ridiculous trend started, or that a guys trousers were too tight, so as to leave little to the imagination.

I would like to point out that this is not just a post bashing men, the conversation I described above could and does happen the other way around, there are male rape victims and there are female stalkers, but it is statistically rarer. What I would love is a consideration of how one’s words and actions could be construed in certain social settings and a mindfulness that not all compliments are appreciated as such and it is up to the recipient to determine that and not the person giving the compliment.

 

 

The Legacy of Harry Potter

Yesterday marked 20 years since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was first published in the UK. The year was 1997, but it wasn’t until 1999 that it finally reached me as the book to read. Already an avid reader, I went to the school library and borrowed a copy to read that night, and read it that night I did. The next day I went back to the library to return the first book and borrowed Chamber of Secrets, again devouring it as fast as I could. From that point there was no stopping me, I was a fan in a massively growing fandom. Now 20 years on I am still a fan and looking back I can see how much this series of books shaped my own character, my likes and dislikes and my personality.

It is only as an adult that I can appreciate the nuances of the story and how dark it actually was. That Harry was a victim of horrific childhood abuse. The number of deaths that blighted the lives of each character. How it must feel to lose a sibling- most of all a twin. Snape’s continual love of Lily and his fight to make things right in her memory and so many other moments. There are also the multiple Tumblr posts speculating how scenes from the surviving characters lives would go, like this one Harry and Ginny at dinner shortly after being married and this post about George and Molly.

Image result for george and molly tumblr

There is still so much to read and understand about the heart break in these books, that I didn’t realise when I was reading them in my teenage years, but for me the most lasting message in the book is how hard dealing with depression can be. The Dementors were a living (well… kind of) representation of the all consuming power of depression. That feeling of overwhelming sadness, fear and self loathing, where you relive every past hurt over and over until you drown, losing your soul in the process. J.K. Rowling revealed later that she herself had suffered through depression and had starting writing Harry Potter during one her of her more severe episodes using the action and discipline of writing to help add some order to her life. Having suffered from depressive episodes myself I find I can relate heavily to the message in the way one would banish a Dementor. Think of your happiest memory, it doesn’t even have to be a memory, it could be a wish and seek out help. The spell “Expecto Patronum” is Latin for “I seek/call a guardian” and it perfectly encapsulates what a person suffering depression should do in crisis. So much so that I have the words tattooed on my left arm to remind me because there are times that I have desperately need the reassurance that I could get through.

J. K. Rowling has continued to build on her masterpiece with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in both a screenplay and a book, originally written as a charitable endeavour alongside Quidditch Through the Ages.  There has also been the hugely successful production of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child and let’s not forget the countless snippets of backstory and cannon released through the Pottermore website. I can only hope it continues to grow and we learn more about this fantastic world and the characters. Even more so that new (and older) generations get to discover the hidden truths of life in the world of Harry Potter.

All that is left for me to say is “Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!”

For the love of Puppies

In January of 2016 I went out and bought a puppy which I named Remy, mainly because I liked the name and slightly after my favourite X-men Remy Le Beau aka Gambit. It was a relatively rash decision based on the fact I was living in a tiny studio flat on my own with limited funds. I do not however, regret a moment of it, even if those moments included being weed in the middle of the night because she couldn’t jump down onto the floor, or the time I had to clean up her poo, which was the consistency of melted chocolate ice- cream but no where near as nice smelling. She’s now over a year and a half old and I couldn’t imagine my life without her.

I can’t deny it hasn’t been expensive to own her and that I have at times struggled to get by. When I first brought her home there was the cost of puppy training classes and premium food, vets bills for injections and diarrhoea, eventually the cost of getting her spayed as well. Now, there is the weekly cost of the dog walker to take her out while my boyfriend and I are out at work. So while there is a continued expense- more so than than both the cats combined, there has also been benefits.

Having a dog has forced me to go out on increasingly longer walks in even the coldest, windiest and wettest of weathers, but also on beautiful summer days. This has had a lasting benefit on my health, both physically and mentally. Having suffered from depression, being forced to go out and get exercise and get out of my own head, was and is great. We have also been able to plan entire holidays around her, like our recent trip to Pooley Bridge in the Lake District. Staying in a luxury lodge that accommodates pets, we took her almost everywhere we went, including on the Ullswater Steamers and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Remy has made me laugh every single day with her antics and adorableness. She is the baby of the family and both my boyfriend and I have had separate moments where we have realised that owning a dog has greatly benefited us. So my recommendation is to get a dog, if you want to improve your health and happiness they are excellent pets to have and so loving, but I can’t stress this enough, they do take time and money and if you can’t give a dog this, then I recommend cats. Please do not buy or adopt without doing your research.

P.S. My boyfriend may say she is called Remy as it is short for Remington Von Wooflestein III it is categorically not the case.

The Persistent Propagation Problem

Yes I know that’s a lot of alliteration for a title, and it kinda makes you spit when you say it out loud. But you should be spitting if, like me, you do not want to have children and you are questioned on your choice, every- single- time, you say it in answer to the question “when are you gonna have kids?”

Usually this is addressed to the woman but I have witnessed my boyfriend being told that one day he will want kids and to just have them, regardless if you hate the experience. This would however, be a physical impossibility for my boyfriend as he decided many years ago, before we were together that children were not in his future. I often get asked why I am with him if we can’t have children and there is a look of shocked horror when I say that I’m not really a fan of the idea of children myself.

When my boyfriend and I were in the early stages of getting to know each other he told me straight, that he would not be able to have children and I spent the afternoon crying. I had already really fallen for him and the idea of not being with him for the stake of possible future children was painful but it did force me to think about what I wanted for my life. Did I actually want children? Or was it just assumed (by myself included) that I would someday have some? It’s generally more acceptable for a man to decide not to have, but for a woman; sacrilege! How dare you not spend your life looking after another? It’s your entire purpose as a woman! It’s so rewarding in the end! But is it really? Isn’t it a choice you can make freely? To be a stay at home mum, a working mum or not a mum at all?

There are many reason why people might not choose to be parents: bad childhood, not financially viable, career pursuits, just hates children etc. For me, I admit I am selfish, I like to be able to pick up and go out for the day without packing as though I’m planning to break into Fort Knox, go to the cinema on a whim and enjoy a spontaneous night out and to be honest this is difficult to do with just owning a dog. I can only imagine what it must take to be able to do this with a child. I like not having to worry about another human being 24/7. This is why, when I thought about it, I decided that; no, I don’t want kids. I’m just not suited to it and would resent the inconveniences involved. I am pretty sure that disqualifies me as good parent material.

So you can stop looking all judgemental and shocked when I give voice to me decision. You can also stop looking smug when you say that I will eventually want children, that it is inevitable. You can also stop saying it to my boyfriend (and men in general). We are adults, capable of critical thinking and the ability to make informed decisions on our lives and our bodies, just leave us to it. Thank you, and goodbye.

 

The Average Woman

In a discussion about women’s clothes sizing in the UK with my colleagues, one posited an interesting idea that I hadn’t thought about; women who are above a size 10 but below a size 18 aren’t really catered for by the clothing industry, or in the media. Think about it, a woman between sizes 6-10 is considered “hot” mainly because clothes in these sizes are made for those who are long legged and and small breasted, just like the super models mincing down the catwalks of London Fashion Week. They are flaunted in every mainstream magazine as “the ideal woman” we should all aspire to be. Now a woman who is considered plus size i.e. size 16 and above, have clothes made purposely to fit and flatter and are lauded as body confidence heroine’s, who are bravely showing off their curves and being sexy while doing it, plus size models becoming more and more popular in clothing advertising.

Neither view is bad really, but my point is; if you are a size 12 or 14 like me then you will know how incredibly difficult it is to find clothes that either fit, or are flattering. They are not in any shapes that match bodies of this size. It is seemingly maligned by the mainstream media as being undesirable, being neither fat nor thin enough to be placed in either category. You’re just normal, boring and a bit chubby, not special in any way. Clothes in a size 12 that look fantastic on a size 10 cling in all the wrong places and the tunic top that looks fantastic on a size 16 women, drowns out any shape you might have when tried in a size 14.

So what’s an average woman like me to do? Do I exercise and eat differently to become that acceptably “hot” size 10 or do I give in and go the other way where I can be considered “confident”? Clothing brands and society in general, certainly has the prevalent view that down is better than up in this case, so I guess it’s off to the gym for me, as it has been made pretty clear that I am decidedly undesirable the way I am.