Dear IKEA Wembley,
Today you turned a mild-mannered (well, maybe a medium-peri-peri-mannered) writer into a snarling beast. Today you turned what should have been a simple errand into an ordeal, and made me stand outside your store and shake my fist at the heavens, yelling, “As God is my witness, I’ll never buy another pack of 100 tealights again!”
Do you want to know why? Well you probably don’t, but I’m going to tell you anyway. It’s this. You know that Brand Experience/ Retail Psychology/ Up-Their-Own-Arses Media-Trouser-Wearing Agency you hired at a sum of heaven knows what? They’re wrong. They. Are. Wrong. What they told you to do with your store to “enhance the retail experience”, or “grease the customer funnel” or whatever other bollocks phrase they fed you in that hundreds-of-thousands-of-pounds, multimedia document you paid through the nose for… they were wrong.
You see, I know your store. I’ve shopped there a lot and I know where to find the things I have come to buy. I do my research ahead of time and find the warehouse location of any furniture items. I may often pick up extra bits and pieces, and I’m certain to make use of the canteen, but my shopping regime at your, and other stores, is get in, get what I need, get out – partly because I have better things to do, and partly because I am inevitably dragging a whining toddler with me.
But now, when I come into your store, you've cordoned off the downstairs entrance, and you force me to trek through the whole fucking showroom, following arrows on the floor, behind so many other sad people, all robbed of hope, like a herd of beef cattle being corralled towards the stun-gun room. You've moved everything around, and now you make me wander haltingly through every last sodding department, despite the fact that I have come to your store to buy a duvet cover and a crappy £1.25 waste paper basket. Now I know I said that I've made impulse purchases in IKEA before, but I meant a lamp, or maybe a throw. Not a fucking spare kitchen.
But… and this is the best bit of all, the bit that made fangs grow from my jaw and hair sprout from my knuckles… when I went to the stand in reception where I know I can find a yellow bag for my aforementioned bits and pieces and a handy tiny pencil, I discovered that you no longer offer store maps. I *must* now walk the predefined route without guidance. I may neither know nor guess whether the items I have come to buy are around the corner, or whether I might have missed them. What if I need to retrace my steps, IKEA? What if I turn and swim upstream like an eager, Fjällsta-photo-frame seeking salmon? Will I be ejected for my rebellion? Will the other zombie shoppers turn on me and devour me? No. I must keep going forward, ever forward, to the ultimate nirvana of the self-checkout tills and the 60p hot dogs, whereafter I may once more be free.
In an interview with the Daily Mail this week, your customer relations manager, Gerard Bos said: “As part of the IKEA shopping experience, we aim to offer a fun day out for the whole family and we welcome everybody to be inspired by our range and to touch and feel our products.”
Well, let me tell you this, IKEA… it wasn’t a “fun day out”. It was a day in which I yelled at my small child and barked at my university-going son, for whom the expedition was undertaken. It was a day which gave me an ulcer and a firm resolve never to return… unless I come back in order to shove your Losjön right in your Lillången.
Incensed of Mill Hill
And immediately, I wanted to ask, Why? Why didn't you think about it? Miley Cyrus is an immensely famous young woman. She has a global audience, infinite financial resources (a quick internet search puts her personal wealth at between $120 and $150 million), and her enormous clout grants her close-to-total creative freedom. So given this unprecedented amount of power and control, why did she choose to strip down to a shiny Elastoplast bikini and grind her behind into the crotch of a man old enough to know better? Of all the creative choices she could have made, why that? A choice that she “didn't even think about”?
It got me thinking about choice. About we women who have it, and the millions of women who have less than us, or none.
Are you a woman with choice? Ask yourself the following questions. Did you/ will you get to decide when and how your education ends? Do you get to decide if/ where you work? Did you choose your own sexual/ life partner? Are you in charge of your own sexual health and contraception? Can you move around the world freely and alone?
If you answered yes, then you are a woman with choices and I would say this to you. We have a responsibility to choose well. Given that we have so many options, we are accountable to women all over the world who have few or no choices. If we have possibilities and opportunities and platforms and we’re wasting them, what hope is there for women who are at daily risk of rape and sexual assault, forced marriage and genital mutilation, and who are denied the right to education, property and autonomy?
So here’s my manifesto. It isn't prescriptive, because I don’t hold with telling people what to do. But these are the choices I plan to live by – and the choices I wish Miley Cyrus and other women of influence might give a thought to.
Choose education. UNESCO statistics show that education for girls and women is a primary indicator for improved maternal, health, reduced infant mortality and a reduction in crime and poverty across the community. It stands to reason that is as true in North London as it is in Malawi. Education gives empowerment and choice. If you have the chance to get it, grab as much of it as you can.
Choose information. As above. The internet is full of the stuff. So are books, newspapers, magazines and the television. Arm yourself with information on all issues so you can make informed decisions. Think, think, think.
Choose financial independence. You never know what’s around the corner. No matter how lovely your life is now, how committed your relationships, how supportive your family… nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. Be ready. Save. Have the capacity to work and earn, even if you’re not working now.
Choose good relationships. Whether they’re romantic relationships family ties, work connections or friendships, choose well. If someone is degrading you, abusing you, or damaging your self-esteem, walk away and choose better. Don’t let them rob you of your power and autonomy. I also know this is easy to say but difficult to do.
Choose positive influence. If you are in a position of power, and people look up to you, consider how you express yourself (yes, Miley, I’m talking to you). If you’re looking for a role model, think about what the person you look up to stands for.
Choose thoughtful creative expression (yup, another one for you, Miley). If you’re a creative, what does your work say? If you’re a musician, actor, writer, comedian… does your work show you as a complex multi-faceted human being? Particularly if you’re a young woman, are you showing off more than your beauty and sexuality?
Choose to help other women. I attended an event at the Houses of Parliament earlier this year to commemorate the centenary of the death of Emily Wilding Davison. The roster of speakers was incredibly impressive, women of power and influence in a wide variety of fields. The one thing they all agreed upon is this – if we are in positions of influence, we should mentor, promote and help other women, not pull the ladder up after us.
Choose positive sexual expression. I’m all for sex. I like doing it, and I find it arousing to see it depicted well. But here’s a question to ask. If you’re expressing yourself sexually (actually doing the deed, dancing, posing for pictures, whatever), think about what you’re doing. Is it genuinely exciting for you? Is it turning you on? Or are you acting out a male/ pornified fantasy because you've been taught turning someone else on is more important? That’s my issue with La Cyrus’s performance. I’m not indulging in middle-aged tutting because she was being ‘sexy’. I’m asking whether what she was doing was sexy for *her*.
Choose to vote. No-brainer, Seriously. I won’t even lay a suffragette guilt trip about how women died so you could vote. It’s just so obvious that the government have control over every aspect of your life – your financial well-being, your home, your health care and education. You've been given the right to hire and fire them. Use it.
Choose choice. What we don’t realise when we are young is that so many of the choices we make, sometimes blindly or impulsively, can close doors. The wrong relationship. A dead-end job. A baby born when we couldn't really afford it. You can’t plan for everything, but you can always try to keep doors open – keep your career moving, avoid obvious health pitfalls, end poisonous relationships. Look after yourself and your dependents before trying to please other people.
Choose. Because you can.
One monkey, one typewriter, seldom Hamlet.