WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS STRONG WORDS AND STRONG OPINIONS. IF YOU WERE HOPING FOR A COSY GIGGLE, MOVE ALONG, THERE'S NOTHING TO SEE HERE.
I looked back in the folder of documents I keep for my blog, and there are any number of half-begun and abandoned posts. A whole heap of those are about feminism, and I often wonder why I don’t post about it more. It’s a tricky old subject to broach, not because I doubt for an instant that I am one, but because, well… this is why.
Humour me here. Replicate a little experiment I did today. Go onto facebook, and in the search bar, type the words “kicking sluts”, and look at the results. At last count, there were more than fifty groups that included that very specific phrase in their names. The groups include several called “Wiping makeup off your shoe after a long day of kicking sluts in the face” one of which boasts a staggering 86,000 members, “Kicking sluts in the vagina and losing your shoe”, and “Push kicking sluts in front of trains”. Now, you may well be wondering how I discovered this: well, it’s because a friend posted that she’d signed this petition, which showcases these and some other lovely groups on facebook promoting violence against women. If there are fifty “kicking sluts” groups, it’s altogether too scary to imagine how many others there are expressing similar and worse sentiments.
Indeed, it’s been a peachy day for male/female relations on the internet today. It all started when I logged on to twitter this morning. Two of the TTs (“trending topics”, for you non-twitterers) were as follows: #TerribleNamesForAVagina. At 9pm, that one is still going strong. Wow, people are endlessly inventive. And #SideChickBirthdayGifts, suggestions for presents for your spare girlfriend. This has gathered some touching responses, including “a :) text. And if the b*tch real special, she gettin the wink ;)”, and “an extra 4 minutes on Skype but if she aint showin titties it will get knocked down to 2”. It’s not an unusual situation, there is usually some appallingly sexist TT running, which garners a selection of illiterate and jaw-dropping responses.
This is just a tiny isolated snapshot of what is going on in social media, just today. By the very nature of social media, we know these thoughts are being expressed by men (and some women) in developed countries with internet coverage and minimal censorship. It doesn’t begin to compare to the horrors endured by women elsewhere in the world or in more repressive cultures. This is the way people think and talk about women in the places where feminism has apparently actually worked.
And before you dismiss these worries and say that the writings are the work of a minority of trolls, or illiterate internet nerds who have never met a real woman, consider these two recent examples from the mainstream media. MP Nadine Dorries recently took her own leader to task in Prime Minister’s Questions. She made a reasonably valid point, which was to point out that while the Lib Dems make up just 8,7% of parliament, why did they seem to hold enormous sway over so many decisions and policies in government? While I know she is no one’s favourite MP, it seems to me a reasonable question worthy of a serious answer. DC’s response was to call her “extremely frustrated” and then fall about giggling like a naughty schoolboy with Nick Clegg until she stormed out. It’s a sign of her enormous lack of public support that the story made barely a ripple in the news. It’s not Cameron’s first hilarious parliamentary stand-up set either. He also told MP Angela Eagle to “calm down dear”, and then had to explain to us all that that was a joke and not at all sexist.
Then there was the recent story reported in the Bookseller and the Daily Mail, about Polly Courtney, a novelist who parted company with her publisher Harper Collins because she felt they were marketing her books as fluffy chick-lit. The story is somewhat garbled, and it’s hard to know what she did and didn't say, although the Daily Mail is quick to point out that she had posted pictures of herself pole dancing on the internet in the past (so clearly can never make any claims about sexism ever).But it was the readers' comments after the story that most wore me down. From “This woman, as with many like her, have an over inflated opinion of their abilities and their position in life. Go away you stupid woman!” to “If she wants respect, she needs to stop being a feminist, she does herself & women no favours at all”. Yes, yes, I know it’s the Daily Mail, but still.
Am I losing you yet? Do you want to say, yes, Rosie, but these are jokes, passing comments, not grave issues? Do you want to tell me to get a sense of humour? I do too. I desperately want to be able to laugh, to say it’s not serious, to say that of course the world does not contain so very, very many men who seem to hate women and have no respect for them as human beings. But creepingly continually, I get scared. I get scared for the girls and young women I know who pose in every picture they post online in tiny clothes, with big hair and pouting lips as if they were porn stars. I get scared for the young men I meet who use sexist and anti-gay language without thinking about it and get shocked when you call them on it. I get scared every time I meet a woman who says “I am not a feminist”.
Are you not, sweetheart? Well then please hand back the following: the right to own property, the right to work, to be paid the same as a man for the same job, the right to choose your sexual partners, to use contraception to plan your family, to have custody of your children, to protect yourself and your children from an abusive partner. Oh, and the right to travel freely, wear what you like, and have opinions of your own. All of those rights are yours because feminists of both genders fought and died for them, and they are rights that millions upon millions of women do not have.
They are rights worth having. Worth protecting. So do me a favour. Sign the petition. Talk back if someone talks down to you. Challenge someone in person or online who denigrates women. Let the sluts do some kicking back.
As you get older, I believe it’s important to admit to your shortcomings and failings and learn to live with them. So here’s my Monday morning confession. I’m really crap at housework. Whenever I visit other people’s houses, I marvel at how they’re dust-free, they don’t seem to collect drifts of paper and mountains of books, and their kitchen floors don’t crunch suspiciously underfoot.
Sorry, that makes my house sound disgusting, and it isn’t really… it just doesn’t seem to… gleam like other people’s do. To be fair, I do share my house with the mess triumvirate: a husband, a teenager and a toddler, all male. My husband is amazing and does his share, but he works long hours and the other two… well. The cats are more help. I also work, so when I’m not chasing a toddler around, I’m trying to meet a corporate writing deadline or work on my book. But the real reason is – and I hesitate to admit this – I think housework is arse-achingly boring.
You see, there are just so many things I’d rather do. Go to the park with Ted. Read a book. Catch up on the news online. Spend a profitable five minutes making sarky comments on statuses on facebook. I could have the cleanest cooker in the west if I reinvested that time.
The truth is that we all get the same number of minutes in a day. It’s what we spend them on that makes us different. My amazing sister Linda is a mother of three and runs her own graphic design company, but still finds time to create things like this stunning quilt, inspired by an ee cummings poem.
Matt, my teenage son, found time to write all the songs for his album while he was doing his A-levels – and still got enviably good results. He finished his exams and then worked 35 hours a week in a pub so he could pay for the recording of the album. He finds time for networking, promoting, booking shows and creating merchandise. Oh, and the album is amazing and you can buy it here.
Once they’ve completed the things they’re obligated to do, everyone has the time for the things that make them happy. Sometimes they’re “worthy” things, and sometimes they’re just fun. Whether it’s a creative endeavour, reading books, watching movies, going to gym, learning a new skill or getting your kitchen floor to shine, you’ll build the time into your day if it’s really, really what you want to do.
Whenever I tell people I write books, they inevitably say, “How do you find the time?” I’ve written four, all when I was working full time. I was a single mother for the first two, and a mother of two while I was writing the last one. I found the time because it was enormously important to me. The time I found was inevitably after work, after commuting, after children had been fed and put to bed, and was at the expense of housework, watching TV, talking to my husband, reading, a social life, exercise and sleep.
But whenever I sat down to write and I didn't feel like it, or I was tired, or I’d rather be watching TV, I’d ask myself, “Who will care if you don’t write tonight?” And the answer was always, “Nobody… but me.” It was something I chose to do, and the only person I was letting down if I didn't do it was myself. Sometimes I would wake up with a jerk because I’d fallen asleep with my forehead resting on my hands on the keyboard (really), but I wanted to be a writer so much, I kept going. For eight years and 450,000 words, which is how long it took me to get an agent and a UK publishing deal.
Do I wish I had had more sleep? Definitely. Do I wish I was thinner and fitter, could dance, or had learned Italian like I always said I would? Hell yes! Do I wish I had a sparkling bathroom and an empty laundry basket? More than you know. But the fact remains I counted my minutes, made my investment and gambled that it would pay off. Was it worth it? Who knows? How do you measure that kind of worth? In financial terms, probably not. Unless, by some miracle Babies in Waiting makes me a best-selling author, my current hourly novel writing rate is about 24p (I’m that sad I worked it out). In terms of personal satisfaction, definitely worth every weary hour. On the balance sheet… well, you’d have to ask my family, who definitely paid a price, and my unhoovered carpets, who can’t speak.
One monkey, one typewriter, seldom Hamlet.