Who You Gonna Call?

Just back from seeing new Ghostbusters. Loved it. It’s more or less the same plot as the first Ghostbusters (in the same way that The Force Awakens is more or less the same plot as A New Hope), and it’s just as enjoyable. And, the Ghostbusters themselves are four women who are intelligent, funny, brave, loyal, determined, and completely kick-ass while remaining fully clothed and avoiding cat-fights. A film like this was well overdue.

Travel Writing by Women

The Scottish Book Trust have done a recommendation of travel books written by women, and included a link to Bani Amor’s blog where she explores travel narratives by QUILTBAG individuals and people of colour.

I really need to win the lottery so I can spend less time at work and more time reading. The number of books on my “I want to read this” list on my Edinburgh libraries account is into the hundreds.

No More Page 3 – Things That Have Happened To Me

Those of you who think that page 3 is harmless, if outdated and a bit tacky, fun and that “the feminists” are making a fuss about nothing, please read Clare Short’s book, Dear Clare. When you’ve done that, have a look at the No More Page 3 site where women have given many examples of how some men use page 3 as a starting point to harass, assault and demean women. And if that’s not enough to convince you, spend some time looking at Everyday Sexism where women talk about what happens to us – every single day.

I have never been the victim of a serious sexual assault, but I have experienced many forms of sexual harassment and assault. I do not know a single woman who has never experienced sexual harassment. It happens to us all. These are the ones that happened to me that stick in my mind the most.

1) When I was at primary school, once a month or so we would drive to the other side of town to visit my grandad’s aunt and uncle, who had brought him up. They lived in a very rural area with hardly any traffic about, a very short walk from a couple of farms. My brother (2 years younger than me) and I would go out to play and we were allowed to walk to the nearest farm and look at the animals. I don’t think I was any older than 7 when one day a farmhand offered to show us round. He walked between us, holding our hands, and I was so engrossed in not slipping in the muck and looking at the animals that it took a little while for me to realise he’d put my hand inside his trousers and wrapped it round his penis. It was broad daylight, there were people nearby, and I was no more than 7 years old. I pulled my hand away and he laughed. Once I told my parents, we weren’t allowed to go to the farm anymore.

2)  Secondary school – pushed up against a wall, had my breasts groped by a boy in my year

3) Aged 13-15 I had a weekday morning paper round. At least one morning a week the newsagent would come out from behind the counter, try to hug me and press himself against me – me, with my awful 80s perm, Deirdre Barlow specs, and newsprint-stained anorak.

4) Aged about 16, waiting for a bus with a friend, both of us wearing skirts that finished about an inch above the knee, bloke in a car queued at traffic lights spent the time shouting about our legs, then drove back to do it again.

5) Aged 20, in the summer holidays between the second and final year of my degree, I had a waitressing job in a restaurant in Edinburgh. The chef would regularly wank himself to an erection, wait until I was in the kitchen, then call me over and force my hand into his pocket so I could feel it. In August they brought family over from Italy to help out with the Festival rush. Their sisters brought their sons, aged about 7 and 5. The boys would frequently – several times a night every night – grope and squeeze my breasts and bum, hard enough to leave bruises. I told them to stop, and they laughed. Their uncles (my employers) told them to stop, but laughed and never enforced it. Their mothers told them to stop, told them off and smacked them for it, but they always carried on. Why did I put up with it? I was 20, jobs were hard to get that summer, it paid £3 an hour (which was good for waitressing in 1991) and I knew it was only for the summer, not forever. If it happened now I’d bring the full force of the law and the appropriate union down on the chef, and I’d make sure I dropped a stack of plates at the first hint of groping from the boys. (For those who are curious, it was La Rocca at the top of Broughton Street and the best day was bringing pizza & steak to Trevor & Simon).

6) Aged about 25, in a pub in town, wearing a dress which showed a bit of the tattoo on my back. A man I don’t know and had never spoken to licked his thumb and rubbed my tattoo. When I asked what the fuck he thought he was doing, he said he wanted to see if it was real. I told him he had no right to touch me. He said I wouldn’t be showing my tattoo if I didn’t want people to look. I told him you look with your eyes not with your hands and to get the fuck away from me. He was furious at being spoken back to and furious that I would challenge his right to touch a woman’s body.

7) Numerous instances of being groped, felt up, passed too closely and pressed against in pubs and clubs.

8) Numerous instances of comments on my body when cycling around town. “Nice tits” the most common, “fuck off” my preferred response.

9) More times than I can remember of men shouting in the street, following me/us (if I was with friends), blocking our way, commenting on our bodies. For the whole time I lived in Lindley and was old enough to go out without an adult, I would walk the long, isolated path at the back of Field Tops rather than go along the main street and have to walk past Carl Livesy’s butcher shop, where he and his butcher assistants would leer and yell.

10) Returning from a union thing in London, on a train with a bunch of other union activists. Everyone’s been drinking, people are falling asleep. I fall asleep, wake up to find the man next to me is allowing his hands to wander all over me while he thinks everyone’s asleep. The union dealt with that robustly. ETA: I should add that I have never felt harassed, threatened or unsafe at any other time during my years of union activity – for me, this was a one-off and I am happy that it was dealt with.

Apart from maybe the first one, I guarantee every single woman you know will have similar stories to tell, or worse.

#thisgirlcan – despite the kyriarchy

This week, Sport England have launched a new campaign, called This Girl Can. The main thrust so far has been a tv ad.

Discussion about the ad has started. I haven’t seen much of it, but what I have seen has been about whether the ad is patronising. I’m so disappointed.

I really like the ad. It shows women of different ages, different sizes and shapes, abilities and disabilities,  different colours doing different types of sport and exercise from solo running to group fitness classes to individual swimmers competing against others to team sports. Some of the woman have athletic bodies, some of them do not. All of the women look like they’re working hard, all of the women look committed to what they’re doing, and all of them look like they’re enjoying it. This, to me, is an ad that says whatever your age, size, level of fitness or personal preference, there is a form of exercise for you.

Yes, it could show an even wider variety of activities. No, I didn’t notice anyone with a visible physical disability. Yes, the use of “girl” instead of “woman” irritates me. But in such an inclusive, varied, positive ad, those are minor quibbles.

Regardless of our weight or size, exercise is good for us, and any exercise is better than none. But while young girls are often as active as young boys, physical activity tails right off amongst teenage girls, and inactive teenagers are often inactive adults, and women generally do less sport and exercise than men.

Instead of bickering about whether or not this ad is patronising or tokenistic or objectifying or othering, let’s use this campaign as a way of opening up the discussion about why women and girls are less likely to exercise. For example, some studies have shown that teenage girls say they don’t want to exercise because they don’t want to mess up their hair or makeup, get sweaty or look “unfeminine” with visible muscles. Women earn less and have more responsibility for care of dependents and household tasks, therefore have less time and less money for exercise. Women are socialised into putting other people before themselves and often feel guilty about or unable to make time to do something for themselves. Some women live in cultures where sports clothing is not acceptable and going out is not frowned upon. Many women, including one I was talking to today, are anxious about exercising in public because of the risk of assault or street harassment.

You can make all the fantastic feelgood positive adverts you like, but until the societal and cultural barriers are kicked down, very little is going to change.So, we need more done to convince girls that their appearance isn’t the most important thing about them, and at the same time, more emphasis on exercise rather than diet as a way to control weight (I’m looking at you, women’s magazines, with your pages of juice cleanses and nothing about lifting weights). We need to see the media promoting a much more diverse range of bodies as attractive and healthy. We need safer public spaces. We need better employment opportunities and better pay for women. We need men to step up and do an equal share of the housework and care for dependents. We probably need more women-only facilities offering a wider variety of sports. We need fitness centres/gyms/pools/clubs/groups to do everything they can to attract and encourage a more diverse spread of women and girls.

If we want women to play, we have to level the playing field.

Call It What It Is: Rape

I have no idea whether or not the press stories about Prince Andrew are true or not. My first thought is that I find it hard to believe anyone in his position would be stupid enough to do what he’s been accused of doing. My right-behind-my-first-thought second thought is that if the last couple of years have taught us anything, it’s that some men in positions of privilege do what they want without fear of consequence, and that we should always believe people who say they have been abused.

But what is really pissing me off is that the news media keep referring to “sex with an underage girl” and that the girl was “forced to sleep with” the prince. There is a word for “sex with an underage girl” and there is a word for being “forced to sleep with” someone. That word is rape, and refusing to use it doesn’t make the crime any less horrific.