Some people make an ad saying that men can be nice, then some men try to prove them wrong.

So look, turns out The Mens are a bit cross about an advert. It misrepresents them apparently.

For a start, don’t even begin to try to explain to us how annoying it must feel to be clumped together with your whole gender and viewed in a certain way; society has been telling women for years that we’re too fat, too thin, too old, too hairy, too messy, too sweaty, too bloody. That we don’t want sex enough (what are you? Frigid?) or that we want it too much (you slut). We’re constantly being told to get our tits out, but woah, not like that! Go and feed that baby in the toilet, you animal, but smile while you do it. So forgive us if we’re a little bit rolling our eyes.

The ad plays with the well known Gillette tagline ‘The best a man can get’ by showing examples of bullying and sexual harassment, of women being objectified, and it asks if this is the best a man can be. It mentions the #Metoo movement and encourages men to hold each other to account. It’s corny, yes, it plays on our emotions with the right music and cute looking kids. But it’s an ad, that’s what it’s supposed to do, that’s how they work.

The irony is that the men who are complaining don’t quite understand that if they’re feeling like that ad is having a go at them, they’re probably exactly the kind of man the ad is aimed at. Also, if you’re going to be pissed off, get pissed off because your wives and daughters and sisters and mums don’t feel safe walking home at night, get pissed off because upskirting is so common now that it’s been made a criminal offence. Don’t get pissed off by someone telling you to be nice.

Quite a few men instantly declared that they are going to throw away their razor. Yeah, you go, beard man, you show ‘em! Don’t forget, men get to choose whether or not they get to keep their body hair, without being shamed for it, without being put on a front cover accused of making a ‘statement’. Because we make statements whatever we do. You’re making one right now with the length of your skirt, the tightness of your top, the redness of your lipstick. Apparently you can tell what a woman is like in bed by what she’s wearing *looks down at tracksuit bottoms* (Shit.)

But back to the upset men. They feel degraded and upset and they’re wondering what will be next. Because now it looks like you can’t even approach a woman on the street and the world is going to END! (Can we just define ‘approach’? Because shouting at our tits in the street is not part of normal social interaction, a man would not start a conversation with another man by shouting ‘Nice nads, bro!’ and winking).

But this ad is not so much about being anti-male, but about being pro-not-being-an-arse. It’s about changing the way we see, talk about and portray masculinity, it’s thinking about how we’re modelling being a man for our sons and friends.

The phrase ‘Toxic Femininity’ has been used quite a lot but let’s just get something straight. It’s not toxic femininity that’s causing a rise in male suicide. It’s not toxic femininity that’s created a climate where women are only now coming forward to report sexual harassment cases that go back for years, and are still not being believed. It’s not toxic femininity that has drip fed men a sense of superiority and arrogance over women. It’s not toxic femininity that tells men that emotions are weak, that the only acceptable emotion is anger.

We need better male role models, and while we have someone like Trump in such a prominent position of power, getting away with all the things he’s getting away with, we need them more than ever. The world is a mess, days after this ad came out we saw a video (that they filmed themselves) of a group of teenage boys from a private Catholic school in the US taunting a Native American man, chanting ‘build that wall’, while wearing Make America Great Again hats. There’s one shot that’s everywhere of a boy stood in front of him, smiling. And it’s that smile that sums up the whole over-privileged, arrogant nonsense that needs to stop.

Imagine if we could channel all that passion and energy into doing something that could make a difference.

So the moral of the story is: men, don’t get cross with the ad, that just makes you look like a bit of a dick.



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2018 – The Year That Just Kept On Giving

So, that was 2018, in all its MeeToo, Brexity, Trumpy glory. And now we have 2019, which feels weird to type. 2019 seems such a futuristic year, so in the future. If you’d asked me about this year back in the eighties I’m pretty certain I’d have said that we’d all have jetpacks by now.

Instead we’re seeing a real-time production of A Handmaid’s Tale being played out, homelessness is on the increase and more people are having to turn to food banks. Happy New Year indeed. But hey, we can order food from our beds while flicking between 150 different shows on Netflix, we even get to choose the ending of some of them, (I think the confusion and inability to choose caused by Bandersnatch is a pretty good indication of why we should never have been allowed to vote for Brexity McBrexit Face) and when things get really bad, they just post a video of Theresa May dancing and we forget all about it, like distracting a cat with a laser light.

But it’s not all doom and gloom; we celebrated one hundred years since women got the vote, in Ireland they voted to repeal the eighth amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, (which had more or less banned abortion), and we have a female Doctor Who. Yes, an actual woman has been allowed to drive the Tardis. (And for all the men who are currently jumping out of their seats ready to explain that you don’t ‘drive’ a Tardis, sod off, it’s a fictional vehicle, I’ll use whatever word I like). This, of course, caused uproar. The fact that we’ve spent the last fifty odd years watching a programme about an alien with two hearts is beside the point, there’s a vagina in the tardis?! Anarchy.

We can’t talk about 2018 without mentioning the #metoo movement. As I type this I can sense men (but hey, not all men) rolling their eyes. I’m sorry, are we boring you with our inability to take this shit any more?

(I know you don’t know how to talk to women anymore, but it really is very simple. Just don’t grope her or offer her sex while you do it. Sorted. Next!)

So while it’s sad that we’re going into 2019 still questioning women who speak out, and still wondering why they didn’t say anything at the time, and still warning our daughters about walking home in the dark while walking home ourselves holding our keys in our hands in a certain way that has just become instinct after the millionth time some bloke in the street asked to see our tits, it also means that it is still being dealt with and eventually women will learn that this is not just how things are, or how men are, but that it is wrong and there is another way.

Plenty of men manage to be around women without molesting them or making them feel uncomfortable at all. And we need to stop this indignation when it turns out that a well-known celebrity has been accused of sexual harassment. But we always liked them, we say, they always seemed so nice. Well yeah, that’s the point, this doesn’t happen because all victims are a bad judge of character, it happens because these people are very good at what they do, which makes it so much harder to make a fuss about, makes it much harder to be believed.

So yes, we still need to be talking about this because things aren’t that different for our daughters and if we can’t change the men who do it, we can change how we react to those men. Our daughters are going through all the nonsense we did, the groping, the name calling, it just happens in a different form now, thanks to technology.

Chances are your teenage daughter has seen more scrotums than you have. Think about that for a second. I know, it’s New Years Eve, nobody wants to think about scrotums while they’re tucking into their party snacks, but sending unsolicited dick pics is the new cat-calling. Something like 46% of young women have been sent one before the age of 18. And we laugh about it, we brush it off and delete and block and joke about how funny-looking scrotums are, but this is not harmless fun, not some poor young man being misguided in his innocent flirting, this is about power and reinforces the idea that women are there for your pleasure and are ready at all times to receive your sexual attention. And the boys doing it probably aren’t even aware of it, they’re just playing out the roles they’ve been shown on TV, and in computer games, and films, in their own families even.

While we’re talking about this, here are a few pointers for any men out there unsure of how to get a girlfriend. I shall call this: Things That Are Never Going To Make Us Go Out With You. Ever.

  • Sending us a photograph of your penis, out of the blue
  • Loudly complimenting us on our boobs/arse as we walk past you in the street
  • Whistling at us from across the street like we’re a puppy
  • Telling us to smile

So I’ll go into 2019 still banging on about all this, still getting cross about the pay gap and the health gap and the fact that our daughters can’t walk along in their school uniforms without being harassed, still only smiling when I damn well feel like it.

I will also continue to play Woman-on-the-Internet Bingo. Want to know the rules?

It’s simple really, you just need to have a drink every time one of these things happens:

  • Someone calls you a feminazi (a gateway name on the way to you being called a c*nt, like being a seconder in Brownies, or wing attack in netball)
  • Someone mansplains your own blog post to you (if they use the words ‘well actually’ you get to take two shots)
  • Someone tells you that they can tell from your Instagram photos that you are ‘filthy’. (In case you were wondering, most of mine are either of my feet or a beach. No, I don’t know either.)
  • Someone tells you that you’d be much prettier if you smiled (No, YOU get over it)
  • Someone tells you that you can’t even take a joke (I can, I’m well funny, I still laugh when someone,, burps)
  • Someone asks why you’re so angry and tells you to calm down (two words guaranteed to result in a swift blow to the aforementioned scrotum)
  • Someone asks why you hate men (I know loads of brilliant men)
  • Someone posts an analogy that basically explains a situation a woman may find herself in, but it involves men and is devised by men, so that men can understand it, it’s so men can be sympathetic (because it’s a little know fact that the male genitals are positioned in such a way that it renders them incapable of hearing a woman’s soft, feminine voice. Or something, either that or we are conditioned to think of men’s voices as more important, but that would be ridiculous)

It’s not a game for the faint-hearted, and you’d do well to line your stomach with some party snacks before you start.

So there you go, that’s it for 2019. As it’s New Year’s Eve you might like to play a game of Scrotum Bingo while reading this, again, line your stomachs.

And on that note (scrote? See? I’m hilarious!) I’ll wish you a Happy New Year! X

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Won’t someone think of the men??

I’d decided not to blog about this as it seemed too huge a subject to tackle, but then yesterday I saw that Donald Trump has apologised to Brett Kavanaugh, on behalf of the nation, for the pain and suffering he’s been through. The Brett Kavanaugh who has just been sworn in as a Supreme Court Judge. And then today, a man in a white van called me a slag and a man outside a cafe asked me to get my tits out, and I remembered how bored I am of all this shit.

So back to Kavanaugh. Bless his little privileged socks. He’s graciously said that he’s not bitter and hey, he’s even hired some women as clerks. Actual women, working for him, and he hasn’t even assaulted one of them, see? He can be around women, his own mother was a woman, all those assault rumours are obviously nonsense.

I will just say that we’re all talking about this as though he’s been cleared in a court of law, he hasn’t, it wasn’t a criminal trial, just an investigation.

But I keep hearing what a horrible time men are having now. Those poor men, they just don’t know how to be around women any more. The rules have changed and all the #metoo nonsense has made women, especially those feminist types, really touchy. Some men daren’t even approach a woman any more, imagine that! How on earth are we going to remember to smile without some man reminding us to? We’re all doomed.

When you can’t even compliment a woman on her legs and brush away a bit of dirt from her top, what is the world coming to?

By the way, my own bit of personal advice for any man having this dilemma, is to just make sure you don’t assault anyone, but what do I know?

But the underlying theme of all this is the suggestion that women are just trying to catch men out, it’s all a trap. Because women have nothing better to do than accuse innocent men of assault, because that always goes so well, doesn’t it? We all saw how Christine Blasey Ford was listened to and treated with respect. We’ve all seen how young women are portrayed so well when they accuse men in positions of power of assault, why wouldn’t we want a bit of that ourselves? Isn’t it the women who always come out on top?

(Meanwhile, Christine Blasey Ford hasn’t been able to move back into her house because of the death threats. But Trump isn’t apologising to her, and why would he? His own past is littered with accusations of sexual misconduct. Personally, I would say that the day you are praised by Donald Trump as an upstanding citizen is the day you really need to have a good, long think about your life, but again, what do I know?)

The worrying message we’re giving out this week is that even if you do assault someone it doesn’t matter (and hey, it’s easily done, who hasn’t accidentally pinned a young woman to a bed and groped her without realising? Boys will be boys, especially boys with alcohol inside them.) And it doesn’t matter because society has your back.

Whatever you do, chances are she won’t be believed anyway, and there will be so much noise, so much male outrage and indignation that she won’t really be heard. Men will stand together and protest because one day this might be them. And once men start to close ranks, women don’t stand a chance because despite all the talk of equality, what it comes down to is centuries of male dominance and they can switch that back on in a second.

You can tell from the way it’s reported; the language used, talk of women as animals, reference to them being ‘handled’. It’s so subtle, so ingrained in our society that we don’t even notice, we just take it in without realising.

In the Kavanaugh case we had an intelligent, professional woman stay calm in the face of an outburst from what looked like an overgrown toddler, yet women are still described as being over-emotional, and over-emotional is the one thing you must never be as a woman. Keep it in, control your emotions you weakling, emotions are bad. If you are going to have them, make sure they’re the sexy kind that men can deal with. It is a weakness and should never be used as an excuse because then you’d be letting womanhood down.

Yet intelligent, professional men can claim to be so taken over by the urges triggered by a woman’s outfit/attractiveness/lack of sobriety that it can be used in their defence. Emotions are like alcohol in cases like these, for men it’s an excuse, for women it’s one of the reasons they were attacked. What did they expect to happen?? We all know what happens to drunk women.

But this message is going out all the time and it’s fine, isn’t it? Because we know that it’s not all men, so it’s all under control. Except that while it’s not all men, it’s certainly enough men that we still automatically make sure we are always on the alert when out at night, always scanning our surroundings for somewhere to run to for help/to hide/for places a potential attacker might be waiting. We walk along with our keys in our hands, not looking at our phones and not wearing headphones because that’s how we’ve learnt to be. It’s how I teach my daughters to be, without even thinking about it. Social media recently has been full of posts comparing the things women do to protect themselves from attack, compared to the things men do. But is all this really a surprise?

There’s a great post going around at the minute in which a man uses the analogy of a man being kicked in the balls to try to explain to other men why women are so angry. Try and find it if you can, it’s good, but it also annoys me. Why should it take a man explaining it to other men to make men take us seriously? It should bloody well be enough that we’re telling you this. The very fact that it has to be explained in terms a man can understand is all part of the problem, and again gives off the idea that men’s voices are more important. We are telling you these things are happening, that should be enough.

Until we sort this out, these things will keep on happening. This week a report has come out that says one third of British girls have been sexually harassed while wearing school uniform. From the age of 12. Think about that for a minute. 12. In a school uniform. I can tell you that having things shouted at you as a 46 year old woman is really unsettling and can change how you feel about yourself in a second, so imagine having to deal with that when you’re 12. And yet young girls are told that they should be flattered, or that it’s just part of growing up. I can tell you now, being leered at is never about attractiveness, it’s about entitlement and an almost subconscious assumption of power.

We need to think about the message we’re giving out to our children, because when I was young I really thought that by the time I had daughters things would have changed, but if anything, they’re getting worse. Because when you have one of the most powerful men in the world step up and publicly belittle a woman and her experiences, without anybody making a fuss, that’s another blatant step towards a future we really don’t want.

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Eyes Wide Shut

We’ve recently seen a huge change in how we talk about sexual harassment. Once someone tentatively opened the door it was like that scene in The Shining where all the blood comes flooding out of the lift, you couldn’t move on social media for #metoo stories.

And now we have The President’s Club. You know, the event that nobody can even remember going to, while simultaneously being 100% certain that nothing bad happened anyway.

There has been outrage this week, and rightly so. Women were fondled and groped and propositioned in an organised event where it almost seemed like part of the entertainment, part of the reason people go. And by people, I mean men. (Insert your own notallmen disclaimer here).

And while I’m pleased that you’re all really cross and shocked by this, I also can’t help feeling a little bit cross that it’s taken this to make people stop and think, because this kind of thing is so common place, so much a part of going out as a woman that I wasn’t surprised at all. What these women experienced is the kind of thing lots of women experience just on a normal Saturday night out in a normal town.

We need to accept that this happens a lot and it isn’t the preserve of wealthy bankers in a one off event.

This is how women are treated in every day life by men in any kind of job, with any kind of salary. I remember being in a nightclub one night with some friends and actually having to summon up the courage to run the gauntlet of walking across the club to go for a wee. That walk probably took less than two minutes, but it felt like forever and there seemed to be hands everywhere, touching me everywhere. And this happened to every one of us. Nobody batted an eyelid. It was just part of being out on a busy Saturday night and if you made a fuss then you were accused of not being any fun.

So this does feel a little bit like faux shock that’s expressed with the knowledge that we won’t really have to deal with it because the majority of us won’t ever be in that situation, there is even some judgement about the women who were working that night, because we are trained to look to the women in these situations, to see what she did to provoke the men, surely any woman working at that kind of thing knew what would happen? It can’t be the poor men who are to blame, they just follow their instincts.

But this ‘show’ concern that looks like you’re on our side means sod all because until you all start challenging the behaviour that confronts women on a daily basis, then we are no closer to moving on than before we read about the Eyes Wide Shut scenario at The Presidents Club.

Please listen to us when we tell you that this shit happens all the time, without undercover reporters and NDAs. Why does that grab your attention but when your colleague/wife/friend tells you about something that happened you justify it as a misunderstanding on our part. We read it wrong. We got the wrong end of the stick. We can’t take a joke.

This stuff happens all the time, from upskirting and downblousing to being harassed as you walk to buy some milk, this is a huge thing as women go about their everyday business. What do we have to do to be taken seriously?

The shock about all of this is also tinged with a hint of unspoken blame. What kind of woman would work that kind of gig? Nobody has said ‘asking for it’ but this phrase taints every report of sexual harassment in a time where the tabloids routinely talk about women ‘flaunting their legs/assets’ , next to a photograph of some female celebrity actually just looking as though she has actual legs. I’m not even sure how one goes about flaunting your legs. Our legs are just there, what are we supposed to do with them? Tuck them into our pants?

But yes, absolutely, let’s look at why anyone would work at one of those gigs. Could it be because those kinds of jobs offer shorter hours, better pay and more flexibility than a lot of jobs available to women who want to earn money while also look after their families?

If anything, this highlights the need to look into current working practices, and I say that as someone who has recently gone down from three jobs to two because it’s a real struggle to find something that earns you enough money while giving you the flexibility you need to be with your family.

I wonder how many women feel vulnerable in the workplace but don’t feel they have any rights to make a stand about it. This is 2018, it’s time the traditional 9 – 5 idea had a re-think.

So get angry and stay angry, really hold onto it. But also listen to us. We are fun, loads of fun, and we can take a joke but all of this shit means that we have developed an ability to read and trust our instincts, so we know what we’re talking about. It’s time to properly open your eyes.

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#MeToo – This Should Be Enough

I’ve had a bit of a blog/social media break recently and it’s been good and useful and I’m almost reluctant to dive back in. But then I ventured onto Facebook and read a post about a recent high-profile case of sexual harassment and saw the #MeToo hashtag, and some man commented that women were being paranoid and that was enough to fire up my ranty blog fingers again.
So here I am.
Of course, (time for the disclaimer because I have talked about this before and know how people react, and by people I mean men), it is not just women that this happens to. The #MeToo thing has resulted in a lot of men coming forward about this happening to them. And before I get bombarded with a chorus of people yelling ‘Not all men’ at me, yes, I know this too. But there are enough men to make it too many men so let’s move on.

One thing I hear over and over again is, ‘why didn’t they speak up at the time?’ (and before I go on I just want to point out that a lot of the time we bloody well do, we tell other women who never look shocked because as you’re telling them they are making a list in their heads of all the times something similar happened to them.)
But the ‘why didn’t they speak up’ thing, this is often the first thing that’s thrown at a woman who comes out about something like this, before any sympathy even, it’s almost an accusation. It’s like they’re saying ‘but if it was that bad you would have said something at the time. Therefore, it can’t have been that bad.’
But let’s think about that shall we?
So you’re in a situation where a man, often someone in a position of power, often someone who’s either related to you or a friend, does something that makes you feel uncomfortable. Now these men are usually good at this, they’ve done it before because it’s not about you or how you look or how friendly you are, it’s never about any of that, it’s about them and power. They do sometimes just make a grab for you, but they’re usually much more subtle and they are doing it before you even realise what’s happening. And as you don’t expect men to just randomly touch you, and you don’t want it to happen, it takes a while for it to register. It’s almost slow motion as you reconcile what’s happening with what’s been said to you.
Is he really just brushing fluff off my jumper/moving my hair out of my face and then accidentally brushed my breast? Which is ridiculous, I don’t think I have ever removed fluff from someone’s clothing, or moved their hair out of their face if they were over the age of ten. But all this is going on in your head as it’s happening. Then there’s a feeling of confusion, shame, then anger, then of helplessness.
‘Please don’t do that.’ you say. And they step back, smiling, feigning confusion, hands up, a look on their face of disbelief that you would misinterpret something so innocent. What’s wrong with you??
So you check yourself. Maybe it wasn’t intentional after all. You almost feel relief because the alternative is to admit that some bloke just touched your boob. And what would you do anyway? Who would you tell? Would you actually raise your voice in the pub and tell everyone around you what just happened? If you were in a group of people in a pub and someone in your group did exactly that and accused somebody else who’s also a friend, what would you do? Would you call the police? And say what? Or would you laugh awkwardly and ignore it?
And so it carries on, subtly, stealthily. Hands on your hips as they squeeze past you, a foot brushing against yours under the table at a dinner party. Do you make a fuss then? Do you interrupt the conversation and say ‘Hey everyone, John just rubbed his foot against my calf.’
A lot of this is always so fleeting and as you say it in your head you know it sounds so pathetic. You know it makes you feel uncomfortable, and, from the look on their face as they do it, almost challenging, you know they know it makes you feel uncomfortable. But it is never concrete enough to actually act on.

There are other situations where you find yourself unable to speak up.
When a man you trusted has you up against a wall with your arm twisted up your back, you’re really not thinking that you should tell him you don’t like it, that you want him to stop, partly because you assume he knows that anyway from the way that you’re struggling and crying. But also because at that moment you’re terrified, and he’s bigger and stronger and has a look in his eye that you’ve never seen before and the only thing in your head is how you’re going to get through this without being hurt and your instincts are telling you to not make him more angry.
But also, it can be someone everyone knows and likes and respects. And you know from past experience that you will either not be believed, because people don’t want to believe this kind of thing of someone they know because that is difficult, and people want easy lives that fit in with the stories they tell themselves about who they are and what kind of lives they lead.
Or you will be blamed and you really don’t want to be that person, because this has happened a few times and you know what it looks like, what the common denominator is, so it must be something you’ve done. And the fact that the common denominator is men does not even enter your head because this is how society has brought you up.
We are told that men are not in control of their urges, that it is up to women to modify their behaviour/outfits etc. We’re numb to this, it’s what we’ve grown up with, we don’t know any other way.
You know that you will be told you misread the situation, that he didn’t mean it, that he was just having a bit of fun and can’t you take a joke? That it was a mistake, that he misread the signals you were giving out by wearing that outfit, or by having big breasts, or by being friendly, or whatever else it was that you did to encourage him.

And again, this isn’t all men and it isn’t the men I know and spend time with, or the ones I’ve spoken to this week or read about, the ones who feel helpless in the face of all this. It’s the other men, the men with no self awareness but who have the inherent arrogance and entitlement that has been drip-fed them throughout their lives which has led them to believe that women are purely sexual objects, here to smile for them on demand. I get that signals can be misread, I get that we can make mistakes. Human relationships are incredibly complex and we will mess up. But the times I’ve been harassed haven’t been because someone messed up, they’ve been intentional power plays.

And we’re not being paranoid, or not able to take a joke, or misunderstanding those people who are, as someone described themselves to me this week ‘someone who is very tactile’. And unfortunately, this isn’t a big news story this week because it’s so out of the ordinary, it’s a big news story because of the high-profile people involved and because once you start talking about this, other people start talking. This week I’ve heard so many stories from women who have been through similar things. Ask any woman and most will have had this kind of experience, we are telling you this and you might not understand it, and might not have experienced it yourself but by not listening to us and respecting our views you are belittling us and making us feel more and more isolated.
This happens all the time, the brush across your breast, the feel of a strange man pressing up against you on public transport, the hands reaching out as you walk through a nightclub or at a concert, the male relative who wants you to sit on his knee, the suggestive comments from a man in a van as you walk down the street.
The sheer, shameful horror as you sit on a bus and realise the man opposite you has his hand down his trousers as he stares at you, daring you to say something. The way you brace yourself as you walk down the street alone at night with your keys in your fist and you hear a noise behind you. The man who won’t take no for an answer and pushes and pushes but it’s okay because hey, there’s no harm in trying and he does it in a jokey way and don’t all the films show men pursuing women and women eventually caving in and going out with them so what’s the problem love? And if you will wear that dress, what do you expect?

I could go on, but I shouldn’t have to. These are all things we experience regularly, things we see our daughters start to experience. Don’t ask why we didn’t say anything before, that’s not the issue here, ask how you can help now, ask what you can do now, it is the responsibility of us all to deal with this and we are telling you what is happening. That should be enough.


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How Was it for You?

I happen to hate New Year’s Eve, with its emphasis on time and having fun and looking back while also looking forward, it’s enough to make you dizzy.

In the Kuhn house we hibernate in front of the fire with nice food and fairy lights and music and I usually manage to stay awake, but that’s mainly out of stubbornness. Because I do hate this evening and it often makes me sad, but I also want to look it in the eye before punching it in the face by surrounding myself with the people I care about most. I want it to know it hasn’t won. And for this year in particular, I can’t wait to see the back of it and I want to make sure it has actually gone and it’s not just a trick, that it hasn’t used all the life force of the people it’s taken away to prolong its own life, like a monster in a horror film.

I’m making it sound like something from a Harry Potter book when of course it is just a year, just another twelve months, a passing of time. There were no horcruxes involved and tomorrow will just be another Sunday. It just so happens that a lot of bad stuff happened in 2016 and we all like to give meaning to meaningless things, there has to be a point, even to the bad stuff, especially to the bad stuff.

Everyone’s talking about the famous people who have died and at times it’s felt like someone has been going through a list of all the people who were the backdrop to my childhood and ticking them off, one by one. But people have also died who I personally know. I’ve been to four funerals this year, some were for people who have lived their lives and left brilliant stories behind, some were for people who seem to have hardly got started with their stories. But too many people I care about have had a terrible time this year and that’s a really helpless feeling.

The bad things that started to happen in 2016 will play out in full in 2017 but my inherent optimism is still making me see this next year as positive, with things to look forward to. I can’t completely write off 2016 because there were some good things in amongst the bad.

I’ve reconnected with old friends and made some really good new ones. I’ve taken responsibility for something that wasn’t making me happy and done something about it, which means that while I’m ending 2016 a little bit emotionally battered, I’m healthier and much more confident. I’ve found something that I enjoy doing that also helps people, while giving me more time to write, because I’ve also found that the best way to get over your book being rejected by lots of publishers is to just get on and write another damn book.

So in a year of Brexit and Trump we have to look after each other more than ever if we don’t want to end up in some kind of Hunger Games scenario. And while women are still not being believed, and still not being paid the same, and still having to scrabble around for jobs, any jobs, that fit in around their kids because the working world is stuck in some kind of 1950s nine-to-five conveyor belt with little flexibility, we need to make even more fuss. It’s more important than ever that we make a noise about the injustices and prejudice we see around us on a daily basis, even if other people would rather not hear that noise.

So give yourself a break tonight, it’s just another night, you don’t have to make any big decisions or put extra pressure on yourself by making stupid resolutions. Just get through it the best way you can, the same as always and I’ll see you on the other side.


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Smile, damn you!

The other day I went for a swim. I swim a lot. It de-stresses me, I can write whole chapters in my head and it cancels out the peanut butter.

So there I was, swimming up and down, smiling like a loon when….Oh, wait, I wasn’t actually smiling, of course, because who actually smiles while they’re swimming? But I assume I had my usual ‘swim face’ on, which is pretty much like my normal face, just a bit wetter, with more eye liner than usual streaking down my cheeks, and as I got to the end of the pool I noticed a man sitting by the edge. He looked at me and shouted over, ‘Smile!’

He helpfully did a big smiley mime with his hands, just in case I wasn’t sure what a smile was. Just in case I was actually desperate to smile but just couldn’t remember how. I sighed to myself, ignored him and swam away.

But when I got back to that end of the pool he said it again, louder, ‘Smile! You’re supposed to be enjoying yourself!’ (Which in itself is really annoying, surely you can enjoy yourself without smiling, there are lots of things I enjoy while not smiling. Who, for example, has a huge grin on their face the entire time they’re having sex? Or while eating cheese? I’d find both really disturbing, unless I’ve been doing both of those activities wrong all this time, which is a bit of a bombshell…)

He then dropped the classic ‘smile’ bomb and told me I was prettier when I smiled.

I pointed at the only other person in the pool, a young man in his twenties and said, ‘He’s not smiling either, why aren’t you telling him to smile, or is it just women you want to make feel uncomfortable?’

He muttered something under his breath. I didn’t hear what it was but from past experience of this kind of situation I imagine it was probably something about how I can’t take a bit of fun. He had a hurt expression on his face (SMILE, damn you!) as he looked around to see if anyone else had heard this ungrateful, miserable looking woman completely get the wrong end of the stick as he innocently enquired after her well-being, mindful of the fact that it takes fewer muscles to smile than frown, so he really can’t be blamed for trying to rescue her from a life of saggy face-ness. Women! There’s just no pleasing them!

I was glad I‘d said something but still felt horrid. My little oasis of swimmy calm had been disrupted, through no fault of my own. I wanted to get out but that would have involved walking past him, so I did Fast, Angry Swimming for another 20 minutes. I suppose I should thank him, my arms are maybe just a little bit more toned after that, so toned that the next time a man tells me to smile (because it’s never, ever a woman) I’ll have the physical strength to punch him really hard in the testicles. While smiling.

It made me think of a conversation I got into on Facebook recently (the first one in weeks that didn’t involve someone telling me to chillax about the referendum result, why is everyone telling me what to do??) But it was a discussion underneath an article about how police in Nottingham are treating uninvited sexual advances, or verbal contact, as a hate crime. This includes cat-calling and wolf-whistling.

A lot of men got upset about this, claiming that it’s a slippery slope and it’s a very sad day indeed when a poor, innocent man can’t even talk to a woman without being reported for a hate crime. This is misogynistic in itself. For a start, I don’t like this suggestion that all women are looking for a reason to persecute men, the assumption that lots of women lie about this kind of thing to be vindictive. Those evil, manipulative women, witches even, casting spells over innocent men.

It reminds me of the automatic assumption that many rape victims are lying, that they must have an ulterior motive and that poor man who ended up accidentally putting his penis inside her was just trying to be friendly.

So here’s a newsflash. This kind of thing isn’t flattering, it’s purely about power and it needs to stop. Men don’t have an automatic right to talk to women. And they don’t control women’s bodies. We’re not here to be looked at, to be reduced to a sexual object. We’re not here to make men feel better by providing some fluffy, light relief, by being happy all the time. We’re not just a nice distraction for men, something to take their minds off all that hard, manly stuff they have to do all day, stuff like wrestling bears and then sitting at a traffic light picking their nose.

I used to wonder if men actually thought they would get somewhere by shouting at a woman in the street. Has there ever been a woman who heard ‘get your tits out, love’ and thought to herself, yes, that’s the man for me? Then I realised that of course that kind of man doesn’t think this, he doesn’t think at all, because he just doesn’t care. He’s been brought up in a society that teaches us that men are more important than women. It’s really hard for a woman to understand this kind of arrogant superiority. (And if you’re interested, you should take a look at #NoWomanEver on Twitter).

You might think wolf-whistling is harmless, you might think it’s flattering, that it gives us a boost, that it’s a bit of fun. But you’re wrong.

At best you can shrug it off, resigned to it just being how it is. But at worst it can make you feel powerless and crap, because let’s get this straight, it’s got nothing to do with flattery and everything to do with power. You can have left the house feeling great, feeling like a confident, capable, intelligent woman with a job and a mortgage and nice shoes. But then some bloke whistles at you from some scaffolding and comments on your tits and you feel self-conscious, aware of how you’re walking, not knowing what to do with your arms, do you fold them? But then it’s hard to walk fast with folded arms and you want to be out of there as fast as possible. You’re annoyed that you’re blushing because they’ll read that the wrong way, and that makes you blush even more. Maybe you should have worn something different? Maybe you need to find a different way to walk home later, so you don’t have to pass them again, even though that might make you late to pick your kids up from school. Everything you are, and have worked hard to be, is reduced to sex, in one fell swoop.

I was thinking the other day that maybe the reason I feel more confident now I’m older is because being over 40 I don’t attract that kind of wearying attention, maybe I feel less exposed. I can slip under the radar. But what about my daughters and their friends? Shouldn’t things be a bit different for them? Haven’t we moved on? I hate to think that they’ll become accustomed to this kind of thing, that they’ll become accustomed to adapting their behaviour because men so clearly aren’t.

So if you’re someone who thinks that shouting out to a woman in the street, in a swimming pool, in a bar is harmless and she just needs to lighten up, I’m telling you now that it isn’t.

We don’t like it, and maybe you don’t understand this, maybe you never will, but you should still care.


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Fat Bottomed Girls

So today I was in a shop and saw what I thought was a strapless bra. On closer inspection it turned out to be something charmingly called a bum enhancer. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, I was under the impression that big arses were a no-no too. Please keep up. We’re not talking proper, wobbly, spilling-over-your-chair big, we’re talking Kim Kardashian-big, topped by a tiny waist and gravity-defying breasts; we’re talking socially acceptable-big.

We seem to be all over the place when it comes to women’s bodies, throwing mixed messages out willy nilly. ‘You’re too fat!’ Shout the magazines, pushing diets and potions at us. The TV and film industries are more subtle, they don’t tell us we’re fat but then they also don’t show anyone above a certain size, unless of course their size is part of the storyline or they’re there for comedy value, (because fat girls are fine as long as they are funny, funny being the get-out-of-fat-jail-card for fatties).

Big women are part of the story because they’re big, not despite. You just don’t see women who veer either side of this so-called ideal weight in the media, and if you do it’s cancelled out by the huge fuss made. If you have to tell us how OK and right-on you are about bigger women, it doesn’t count. Of course, a certain kind of fat person is allowed, they’re paraded around as a beacon of chubby hope in a skinny world. Look! A plus-size model. Isn’t she great, isn’t she brave! Now let’s wheel her back into her over-sized cupboard because of course we’re never going to actually use people like her as fat doesn’t sell. It suggests lack of control and excess. Let’s just stick her on the cover of a mag and hopefully her massive arse will hide all the skinny models we’ll still be using.

‘Big is beautiful, love!’ they say, ‘But jeez, not that big! Have some decency will you? We don’t mean everything, just the important bits.’ These people obviously fell into a coma in 1985 while watching Weird Science and have woken up thinking that you can just adjust the size of a woman with a click of the mouse, depending on how you feel that particular day.

Meanwhile, women’s bodies continue to be public property in a way men’s bodies never are. It’s as though it’s their duty to society to put on a good show and there’s indignation if they differ from the norm or ‘let themselves go’, and this includes going too far the other way because skinny women make us feel uncomfortable too. It’s even more socially acceptable to criticise a skinny woman. A slim friend of mine has had people actually grab her arm and comment about how thin it is. They assume she’s anorexic. This would never happen with an overweight woman. You would never go up to somebody and wobble their arm flesh saying, ‘Gosh, you’re so chubby! You must have some kind of mental illness, maybe just eat a bit less?’ Women who lose weight are told they look haggard and old and we can’t have that, it’s against the rules.

And yet conversely,thin/skinny is used as a compliment, as though that is something to aspire to, the thing that everyone wants. ‘Aren’t you looking nice and thin,’ they’ll say to someone who’s lost weight. Nobody would say that to someone who’s put weight on, you wouldn’t shout across the road to your neighbour ‘Hey, look at you and your lardy legs, well done you!’ because everyone assumes that you would not put weight on deliberately.

It’s all too confusing, no wonder we’ve lost our way and this uncertainty is preyed upon by people keen to make money. There’s a whole industry out there that has been built on our insecurities as it tries to scare us into eliminating whole food groups from our diets. We’re bombarded with books and blogs and instagram accounts that tell us we’re poisoning ourselves. They give us little snapshots into their unrealistic lives, forgetting that it’s all very well existing on a handful of nuts, some spiralised celery and an energy ball when all you have to do is skip around a beach in Wales wearing flip flops, but for someone who has to get kids ready for school, then run for the bus to go and do a day’s work without passing out in the process, it’s just not attainable.

The emphasis should be on being fit and healthy, whatever our weight, but it’s not really in anybody’s interest for us all to be fit and healthy. If we were we wouldn’t need the drugs and the books and the diet foods.

There’s so much emphasis on how we look we seem to be completely missing the point that we still need to look after ourselves and be healthy, and while that doesn’t automatically mean thin we do need to make sure that we’re not all so concerned about not giving in to patriarchal ideals of thinness that we end up giving ourselves heart disease in the process. Yes, the media places unrealistic pressures on us to look a certain way, but we shouldn’t get so hung up about not wanting to be told what to do that we replace that pressure with a different kind of pressure to not care about our bodies.

I’ve lost weight recently and I’ve ended up feeling a bit guilty about saying that, because it seems that I have gone from being the wrong kind of shape for society, to being the wrong kind of shape for feminism. There’s an idea that wanting to lose weight is shallow and petty. We shouldn’t care, we should embrace our larger bodies (even if we can’t quite get our hands around them), and concentrate on much deeper issues. Losing weight has almost become a guilty secret. There’s a kind of bravado about over-eating. Cake-porn is a thing to feel proud of, stuff the patriarchy, if we want to be fat we’ll be fat and no man can tell us any different. That’ll teach ’em.

Cake has more or less been given a sainthood and there are as many pictures of huge slabs of cake online as there are pictures of kittens. We attach so much emotion to it. We deserve to eat this cake, we’ve earned it. What kind of fast food/social media/instant gratification-obsessed society have we created where happiness is the responsibility of food?

I wonder if we’ll look back on things like cake club blogs in the same amused, yet horrified way that we watch episodes of Mad Men, where they sit around smoking fags while necking Old Fashioneds at a 10am meeting.

There’s a kind of negative boasting. When my children were small there were always people who made others feel bad about doing good stuff with or for their kids. Like the kids at school who would laugh at you for always doing your homework. Oh, someone said to me once, you make porridge for their breakfast? I can’t be bothered with that, I just stick a bit of cereal in a bowl and leave them to it. Everyone laughed and I felt silly for caring about what my kids eat. I feel exactly the same way when someone suggests that I’m no fun for turning down a piece of cake. When did it become a thing to be congratulated for not caring?

It seems that we’re allowed to talk about how we embrace our fatness but it’s almost gone too far the other way, and we’re not allowed to say when we want to do something about it. How is that equality?

We need to give ourselves and each other a break and start being more supportive, instead of judging and giving out little labels that we assume can’t be worn at the same time. Yes, you can want equality and want to look good. It is possible to type out those ranty blog posts with shiny red nail varnish, I’ve just done it and the world didn’t end.

And just so you know, ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ was the best out of a very long list of fat bottom puns, so you actually got away lightly. (And you have no idea how hard it was to not write ‘You got a-weigh lightly’).


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Let’s talk about sex, baby…

It seems that sex education has moved on a lot since I was at school. I remember being ushered into the school hall for a mysterious talk by the scary Games teacher, who showed us some dodgy diagrams on the overhead projector and left us feeling more confused than ever. It was also far too late, I couldn’t relate any of that to what I’d already seen in films and read in books, and heard about in the school playground. (He did what with a crisp packet??).

But I’m not sure we’re getting it right, even now. I read an article earlier about a youth worker who put 400 condoms in her kitchen drawer for her teenage sons to use. I was mainly shocked that she had a kitchen drawer tidy enough to fit 400 condoms in, mine are all full of mysterious keys and takeaway leaflets. But she talked of how she’d met a 17 year old girl in an STI clinic whose parents had never talked about sex to her.

How can this happen? How can it not have come up, ever? Why are people so scared of it? It’s a huge part of life and of relationships, yet it seems to be the hardest thing for people to talk about. Maybe because we’re not that good at talking about it to each other. Or maybe people worry that if they talk to their children about sex they’ll give them ideas and they’ll go straight out and do it with the first person they meet. (Although I’d have thought that going out and having sex was the last thing you want to do after sitting down and talking to your mum about it.)

If you leave it too late you can be pretty sure that by the time you talk to them about it they’ll already have been exposed to unrealistic and downright damaging ideas about sex. And they’ll definitely have experienced some kind of sexual feeling.

School can only do so much, it needs to be supported by parents who need to take more responsibility. We need to talk to our kids from quite a young age, and make it normal and not just make sex a taboo subject that you suddenly spring on them when they’re 11. No wonder people are so uptight about it if this is your introduction to sex. One minute you’re happily playing with your lego, the next your mum sits you down and tries to sum up the whole complicated, confusing, fantastic muddle of sex in a five minute conversation that doesn’t actually use proper words. Instead there’s talk of birds and bees, or, if you’re lucky, you might get the proper words and you’ll be absolutely horrified because that thing between your legs has always been your wingywang, or your front bottom, or your foofoo or whatever stupid name you’ve been calling it, and you walk away from this whole sorry episode still not entirely sure what a vagina is, but you’re pretty certain it’s not the new car model from vauxhall.

It needs to be part of the dialogue before that, not a sit-down sex talk that will make everyone feel awkward, but an ongoing lesson about relationships and respect. Not just the biology of what goes where, that’s (‘scuse the pun) coming at it from the wrong angle, we need to talk about the emotions involved.

We need to stop talking to kids about sex from a ‘making babies’ angle, that’s not realistic; it needs to be talked about in the context of relationships and respect. We need to talk about what constitutes an unhealthy relationship and stop making sex sound like a serious, scary thing in the misguided belief that if we make it sound too nice they’ll all rush off and shag the first person they see. The same goes for giving out condoms. Giving a teenager a condom will not make them want to go straight out and have sex, chances are they probably already do want to go straight out and have sex anyway, deal with it. We need to reinforce the idea of safe sex, for everyone.

In the article I read it was talking about heterosexual relationships and most of the comments (always the best bit) were from parents of boys saying they always made sure their sons carried condoms. But what about girls? They should leave it up to the boy? That’s like going out in the rain and not wanting to get wet but assuming someone else will have an umbrella for you to use. And what about LGBT relationships? These seem to be tagged onto ‘traditional’ sex education like an after thought.

Then there’s the matter of consent, which is great, except lots of teenagers, hell, lots of adults, get into sexual situations that don’t require a yes or no, things just happen. One thing leads to another and before you even realise what’s happening, you’re having sex. What then? And what if you change your mind? Or aren’t actually capable of saying no, or you said yes last time but then want to say no this time.

There’s also the issue of technology. Our children are exposed to so much more, at a much younger age than we were, but that’s not all. Technology speeds interaction up, it enables them to get into something serious much quicker than they’d planned, it can escalate quickly. So many of my daughter’s friends’ parents have shut themselves off to social media, claiming to not be interested. Yet they need to be interested, to see how it works and how easy it is for young people to get into situations they’re not old enough, or experienced enough to handle. We’re putting sophisticated technology into our kids’ hands without giving them lessons in how to use it.

So don’t wait, or put it off because if you don’t talk to them, because if you don’t somebody else will, somebody nowhere near as qualified as you, their actual parents whose job it is to demonstrate a healthy, loving relationship every day of their lives, so who better? Because society is rubbish at this, society tells girls that the first time is always painful, that it’s not normal for them to want sex, and that it doesn’t matter anyway as they’re too fat and hairy or clever to have sex anyway and even if they do they don’t need to say anything because their clothes will say it all for them.

So, to sort of quote the wise words of Salt ‘n’ Pepa, let’s talk about sex. Because crisp packets are only good for one thing. (so many crisp-related jokes, so little time…)


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Are we there yet?

It’s 2015. We have cars that can park themselves and a computer that can decide for itself to make a robot that can use a 3D printer to make a gun. This is the future, right here. My dad can go to see a doctor who’s a woman and he won’t even make a comment about how nice she was in a surprised tone of voice, like any woman who would choose a career over, or as well as, children must be some kind of abomination of nature and not to be trusted. That’s how far we’ve come.

But then a few things have made me think that we haven’t moved on at all.

My daughters went back to school this week, so the last month has been mostly taken up with us trying to find the right school uniform, something that usually involves me walking into the centre of town and scattering the contents of my purse around to passing strangers. But this year there seems to have been an extra element of stress, because now it seems it’s not enough to send us out to try and find 50 different kinds of indoor and outdoor trainers with The Right Soles, we now have to find The Right Skirt and The Right Trousers.

I’m always in two minds about school uniform; I can see both sides and change my mind daily. But some of the recent rules have just been plain silly, particularly when it comes to uniform for girls.

I know there are plenty of rules for boys too and there probably only seem to be more rules for girls because they have more choice when it comes to uniforms, i.e. they can wear either skirts or trousers, but so many of these rules seem to be about making girls feel responsible for the way men see them at the very time we’re trying to teach our impressionable, social-media obsessed girls the opposite.

Skirts have to be knee-length. Never mind that none of the girls would be seen dead in tights any other colour than opaque black, they can’t wear anything shorter. Although there isn’t an official reason for this I read that it is because short skirts ‘distract the boys as well as the male teachers.’ Aw, poor lambs, maybe we should cover up wrists and necks too, just in case. We wouldn’t want anyone (male) to feel uncomfortable now, would we….Or, we could maybe try teaching our young men that women aren’t objects to always be seen in a sexual way especially when they’re only 11. Just a thought.

But no worries because they can wear trousers, right? Wrong. Because the trousers have to be right too and can’t be too ‘skinny’, in fact the rules say ‘you must be able to pinch an inch of material around the thigh.’

This reminds me of that awful saying that was used in a cereal ad years ago, the ‘rule’ that if you can pinch more than an inch of fat then you’re overweight. And I know we’re not talking about flesh here, we’re talking about trouser fabric but it still boils down to how much you fill your trousers.

Because what happens if you you don’t buy ‘skinny’ trousers but have big thighs? (Ironically, all trousers are ‘skinny’ if you are a bit big. Please try to keep up). What message is this rule giving out? And how do they even enforce it? How will it make our daughters feel, being made to feel that they’re too fat to wear the right uniform? Teenage girls are under enough pressure as it is without this kind of thing making it worse.

One theory behind these rules is that it prepares them for being in the workplace where they have to wear appropriate clothing, but does this really prepare them? How? Surely wearing appropriate clothing to work is mostly common sense anyway, we’re not stupid, we know what is and isn’t appropriate at work. We don’t have to be talked down to like silly little girls, under the common pretence that it’s ‘for our own good’.

Imagine if these rules were enforced in the workplace? You stroll across the office towards the coffee machine only to be shouted at from across the room, ‘Hey, you there, those slacks are very snug around the thigh area, you’re provoking unnatural desires in these poor defenceless men, find some loon pants at once or cut down on the cheese and biscuits, lardy-arse!’

So we gave up and she has resorted to the age-old trick of folding her skirt over at the waist to adjust the length accordingly, just like I used to in the 80s. Progress indeed.

So we move on to the sports kit, nothing to worry about here, trainers, shorts and a top, sorted. Except we need shin pads and I didn’t have time to go into town so ordered online from a well-known sports shop. But when I tried to buy some it seemed they only came in three sizes; boys small, boys medium and boys large. My daughter looked at the screen. “Where are the girls’ shin pads, Mum?” she asked, and 11 years of finely tuned feminist upbringing went down the pan.

Surely this shouldn’t still be happening. Why am I still having to explain this kind of thing to my girls on a regular basis? Why do I have to talk to my 14 year old about what to do when a man pays her unwanted attention? Do mothers of 14 year old boys have to have this kind of discussion?

So while I accept that things have moved on a lot, I can’t help feeling that we’re all still going over the same old ground again and again and will carry on doing so until we make some changes. Or all get a robot with a gun. You choose.


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