Category Archives: The quiet revolution

How women talk to other women about men

In this blog what I specifically want to look at is the kinds of unhelpful stories women tell other women about men. I suspect this won’t be an exhaustive list. Some of these stories I suspect women tell to male children as well as female children, but I’m not well placed to comment on how that might play out.

He hits you because he likes you. He hits me because he loves me. We turn experiences of actual violence into stories about how this is an expression of affection. It keeps us accepting abuse, letting abusers off the hook, and setting each other up to be victims.

We tell each other that bad boys are sexy. We do this especially through the medium of romance and erotica fiction. We treat rude, demanding, unreasonable, controlling and violent men as desirable. We perpetrate the fantasy that magically, for us, they will become better people because they just need to be loved. We do not tell each other to run away and never look back, to find someone kinder and more cooperative. We imagine saving them when what we need to do is save ourselves.

We excuse male acting out, we tell other mums that this is just what normal boys do. We say ‘boys will be boys’ and then we teach each other how to stay safe and what to wear. We tell each other stories that the men who perpetrate violence just can’t help their bad behaviour. We say ‘he’s a good man really’, and we disbelieve the stories other women tell us to the contrary.

We bring up our daughters to feel responsible – the buck stops with us domestically. Women who find themselves living with overgrown man-babies who can’t or won’t take responsibility for home or children may tell each other how tough it is, but don’t reliably tell each other how to call said man-baby out and get him to do his fair share. Instead we tell each other that of course they don’t notice, remember, keep track, feel it’s their job and thus it continues not to be their job and stays wholly as ours. We make excuses based on how busy they are, or their upbringing. We accept that they can learn how to do a paid job, but not how to wash a nappy or cook a meal. We accept the role of mother and let them carry on being indulged boys when they’re at home.

We participate in the stories that work men do, or work done by men is more valuable than traditional female work, or work done by women. We accept that work done on the home front isn’t as valued as work done in public places. We accept that domestic arts aren’t as important as ‘fine’ arts. Women’s work is craft, not as valued as art. It’s cooking, and not valued like being a chef. It’s only interior decorating when you pay someone else to do it.

We use magazines to tell each other how we should look, in order to appeal to the male gaze. We share those magazine stories with each other.

In my family there were stories about boys being better treated than girls and stories about men who really didn’t make an effort. There were no stories about how to fix this. There were stories about how a mother can except to be judged over how clean and tidy her child is, but no sense that a father would be judged the same way. The kinds of stories women tell women about men go back to our grandmothers and great grandmothers and beyond. Expectations and beliefs are passed from one generation to the next. Changing the stories that are part of your fabric of reality is not easy, but change them we must.

Whatever stories you have, it pays to start by identifying them and trying to remember who told you these tales in the first place. Some stories aren’t spoken, they just underlie the way a family treats its men and the differences between that and how it treats its women. The stories are there in expectations and criticisms, in what we were allowed and what we were told was not for us.


Minimising with Liam Neeson

Trigger warnings – sexual assault.

Minimising is a tactic used by abusers, and apologists for abusers to facilitate abuse. It’s a simple method, and involves downplaying what’s going on. You’re making a fuss. It was just a little push. Recently, actor Liam Neeson has put himself forward to minimise the accusations of sexual abuse in the film industry. He’s quoted as saying “there’s some people, famous people, being suddenly accused of touching some girl’s knee, or something, and suddenly they’re being dropped from their program, or something.” He also called unwanted breast touching “childhood stuff”.

There are many accusations out there of serious sexual misconduct. So, by reducing it to ‘touching some girl’s knee’ Neeson dismisses the nastier stuff without even mentioning them. That doesn’t exist in his world. We are also to note that the victim is ‘some girl’ while ‘famous people’ are important men. People are men. Women are non-people in this quote. The victim is of no consequence, the perpetrator matters. That a ‘person’ is dropped from their program is presented to us as more important than that the non-person, the woman, has been assaulted.

The idea that unwanted touching of knees or breasts is no big deal also acts to minimise. As though the female body is something that doesn’t merit protection from minor infringements. It was just a knee, just a breast. Nothing that mattered. Once you’ve made most of a person’s body irrelevant, it gets a lot easier to say ‘it was just your ass, what’s the big deal?’ It was only a quick hand up her skirt. It was only, it was just. She’s only an irrelevant girl after all.

There’s a gaslighting aspect to all this. If you assault someone and then tell them, and everyone else that it definitely wasn’t an assault, it was a small, insignificant thing, that’s really disorientating. If you tell your victim that they’re being silly, over reacting, making a fuss, blowing it out of all proportion, it makes it harder for them to protest. If you have the power to get the message to victims and potential victims that touching a girl or woman without consent is no big deal, you make it harder for them to speak up in the first place. You make them feel crazy and to blame if they take issue with what’s being done to their bodies.

People who touch without consent, and keep doing it, are invasive and disturbing. It is an act of power over someone to be able to force contact onto them that they do not want. Even ‘little’ acts of knee touching fall into this category. If you are not allowed to say no, if you are not allowed to decide who can touch you and who can’t, then you don’t own your body. The person touching it owns it. That’s an awful, awful place to be.

Watch out for how people use ‘just’ and ‘only’ to try and underplay what’s going on. Watch for the flow of power in a situation. And watch out for the people – usually men – who do this kind of shit, and who defend it, because they are not good people. People who minimise abuse are defending abusers and facilitating abuse, and you certainly can’t trust them to respect anyone else’s body, either.

Building a better world – art and activism

Last week someone responded to my blog about what’s happening in modern Druidry by saying that we don’t need more books, we need more activism. My knee jerk reaction (as someone who writes books and gets involved with activism) is that of course we need both.

I’ve seen comments from people who are far more involved with activism than I will ever be, saying how much they appreciate good books to escape into, and other nourishing forms of art. I’ve done enough campaigning to know that it is gruelling, it wears you down emotionally, you get exhausted. If all you do is fight, you can lose track of the good things that you were fighting for, becoming totally focused on what you’re fighting against. That makes it really hard to stay motivated and keep going. Sometimes it means becoming the thing you were trying to replace.

One of the big questions when dealing with any cause, is how to get more people involved. How do you make them care enough to take action? How do you get them to change day to day life choices if you are an environmental campaigner? How do you persuade them that your cause is the one they should give their money to? Hard hitting, emotionally affecting campaigns can have the effect of shutting people down and driving them away. Who can face looking at another lost and starving child, another brutalised animal, another grim and traumatic outcome of human behaviour? How many of those can you bear to see before you start tuning out?

To make change, you have to believe that change is possible. You need hope, optimism and a sense of the possible good outcomes that can be achieved through your actions. It is better to inspire and uplift people into action than to frighten or depress them. People who believe in their own power can and will act. People who feel powerless in the face of all that is wrong, give up. Stories, songs, art – expressions of hope and possibility – help people to change things.

We need stories. We need stories about things that worked out ok, or better. We need stories about how much better things could be. We need things that feed our souls so that we are fighting for something, not merely grinding ourselves down against the vastness of all that is wrong. For some people, the comfort of a spiritual book is a real boon in this context as well. Guidance on how to uphold the spiritual side of your life, and the inspiration to do so, can be a real blessing. Something to hang on to when the world is breaking your heart, something to bring your grief to, and somewhere to seek sustenance.

For some people, spiritual practice is what makes it all bearable and possible. For some people, it’s escapist fantasy fiction. For some of us, it’s music, dancing, or walking, or bird watching or any number of other things. It is important to stay human, and to do the things that fill us with joy and hope.

If you want to do your art and activism at the same time, watch out for Share the Love in February – raising awareness of climate change.

Toxic female – asking for it

I’m exploring the things that women do to other women that hold us all back and keep us down. Today I want to talk about body shaming, slut shaming and how we give each other toxic ideas about consent.

Women can be very quick to blame other women for sexual abuse and harassment. Choices of clothes, makeup, shoes and how a woman presents are long standing targets. There’s a long history on calling a women ‘no better than she should be’ – being a roundabout way to slut shame another woman. It has been women, historically, who have particularly alienated from their social circles the ‘fallen’ women, where men with mistresses and illegitimate children never faced the same consequences.

Clothing, hair, shoes and makeup are never a person’s consent. No one gives sexual consent to a total stranger or a passing acquaintance, or even a friend or a boyfriend by wearing clothes. Or not wearing clothes. No one is asking for it. And yet, I saw only last week a whole bunch of women on facebook agreeing that a topless woman was just asking to be groped by a stranger and that it was her fault for not covering up.

When we make male behaviour about female clothes choices, what we tell each other is that men can’t control themselves. It’s a pretty shitty attitude to men. We teach our daughters to cover up, look demure and not act sexy so as to avoid rape and other assaults, when we do not tell our sons not to assault women. If a woman is sexy, we blame her for any negative consequences that can be associated with that. I think this is because there can be a tendency to give jealousy a lot of room in these situations. So often it seems to be women who do not suit the conventional male gaze shaming and blaming women who do. But that keeps it all about the male gaze, and doesn’t get us talking about healthier and broader takes on beauty and not making invisible women who are not young and curvy.

We tell stories about women who we think have slept their way to career advances. We haven’t told stories about male abuses of power, but about women using their sexuality to get results. Those stories need to change, and I think they are changing.

We tell stories that suggest we don’t have the right to own our own bodies.

The thing about covering up is, remember what happened with the Victorians. Swathe a woman in fabric, and suddenly a flash of ankle becomes the erotic focus of the male gaze, and the woman who shows too much ankle is just asking for it and is no better than she should be. The problem is not what we wear – no matter what we wear. The problem is that the female body is sexualised, and treated as an object. So long as we keep telling each other that women who get attacked were asking for it, we let this sort of thing continue unchallenged.

Hate speech and activism

Here’s a thing I’ve seen too often. A woman does or says something unacceptable. She is rightly called out for it. But then the tone changes and it becomes an opportunity for anti-female hate. Rather than talking about the issues, words like bitch, witch, and cunt enter the mix. We will hear that she’s old, fat, ugly, unshaggable. In the worst cases, there will be threats of rape, violence and even death. This has got to stop, because there is nothing, nothing a person can say that makes it ok to threaten them.

There are a number of things that happen when this occurs. Firstly, it derails the actual issue. Whatever we should have been talking about gets lost in the noise of hate speech. That’s not good activism. Tory women subject to threats online became a bigger story last year than the shit they had been dealing out. That’s not a win for your cause. Hate speech justifies more hate back at you. That’s not a win for your cause. There isn’t a good cause out there well served by directing hate towards women. Nor is there a good cause well served by perpetuating rape culture.

Last time I did a stall in the street, and old Labour supporter- a guy – explained to me that this kind of political situation is what you get when women are allowed power, because women are basically awful. I’m not prepared to accept that. I’m not prepared to let Theresa May be judged for her gender rather than her actions. It’s her actions, and lethal inaction we should be calling out, for as long as it takes to get real change. Hating her for being a woman doesn’t actually help.

It’s all too tempting to give the person holding your banner a free pass. They are on your side, apparently, they turned up to support your cause and bash your enemies and so we accept them and even welcome them. It doesn’t help that we treat so many issues as fights, us and them, my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Except they aren’t, and what we’re doing is giving room for haters and people who are totally at odds with our causes and values.

If your allies are using hate speech and making threats of death and rape, they are not your allies. They just happen to hate your opponent more than they hate you. They find your banner a convenient thing to hide behind. They may even be there for the harm they can do to your cause. I’ve seen it so many times online this year – people on the right complaining about the vile hate speech and threats coming from the left. Making death threats to Tory women does not advance any cause for the common good, it harms it.

Do we trust everyone who turns up and says they are with us? Do we trust everyone who claims to be our ally that they really are that? It seems rather naive to me. The people holding your banner have the most power to destroy your credibility, especially if you stand by and let them do it.

We have to stop giving free passes to anyone who claims to be ‘on our side’. When you’re working for cultural change, the ends do not justify the means. If the means take you in exactly the wrong direction, then what you’re doing is creating a cultural change that goes in exactly the wrong direction. You don’t make people safer by making death threats. You don’t further your cause by letting people with a hate agenda speak loudly on its behalf.

We have to start dealing with each other based on how we behave, not based on whose side anyone says they are on. If we see our ‘enemies’ as inhuman and deserving the worst we can do to them, we have lost already. To win at radical cultural change, we have to persuade. We have to argue over the ideas and the methods. We have to deal with the issues. Hate speech doesn’t do that. Ever. We have to be the change we want to see and our methods matter, which means we have to speak up against hate no matter where it comes from. We have to say no, this person does not speak for me. No, this behaviour is not acceptable.

Toxic femininity

I am cheered by the work many men are doing to expose and deconstruct toxic masculinity. I’m also starting to see women talking about the need to do the same thing. It’s not like being female makes you naturally non-patriarchal, non-feudal, non-hierarchical, not into power over. There are a great many ways in which women actively contribute to toxic social constructs of femininity, and a lot of things women do to keep women powerless. It’s worth remembering that not all women were suffragettes back in the day – there were plenty who were very keen that women should not get the vote.

One of the things that bothers me particularly is how we define what constitutes a ‘real woman’ and thus who is excluded. While this can be an issue for trans women, it often also means a subset of women who were born women. If ‘real’ women have wombs, where does that leave a women who has been medically obliged to have hers removed? Where does that leave a woman who was born without a womb? I’ve heard a lot of really toxic things from radical feminists in the last few months that narrow the definition of women to something far too womb-centric.

Women who are anti-trans are currently doing a massive disservice to cis women who don’t fit their ideas of ‘real’ womanhood. Those of us who are taller, broader, have more facial hair, larger hands and feet – those of us who look like we could have started out as men, will also be subject to the suspicions, and worse, whipped up against trans women. I’m no fan of transphobia, and I wonder if the radical feminists out there realise how much they are trying to make femininity about being able to pass, and looking certain ways. Toxic notions of femininity that define us as small, weak, without muscle, delicate and so forth. ‘Biologically’ based feminism will exclude a significant number of ‘biological’ women. I don’t think much of a strand of feminism that rejects so much of the breadth of female appearance and experience.

I’ve seen the ‘real women have curves’ meme go past on social media plenty of times. There are plenty of women who do not have curves – not because of diets or surgery or being born male, but because they have a body shape that isn’t curvy. There should be no shame in the accident of your body shape. There should be no de-feminising of women who aren’t the currently fashionable shape. It bothers me immensely that we still encourage women to be thin, not to be fit or healthy. That’s a really toxic notion. Thin and curvy is difficult to achieve without surgery, which is also incredibly toxic as a way to define what we should aspire to.

We’re still too quick to make motherhood the definition of womanhood. Again, this excludes a lot of women – those who are unable to have children, and those who do not want to have children. As the human population becomes ever more unsustainable, we really, really should not be shaming women who don’t want to breed. Motherhood should not be the end goal of being female, nor the defining experience of being female. We’ve had far too much of that historically, it’s a notion that ties us to domestic roles. There is no urgent need for more people right now.

Defining womanhood in relation to domestic roles is another big problem. Historically, we’ve had very narrow options. There are still women who hold other women back by saying these are not the jobs for you, this is not what you should do or aspire to. We still give our daughters shiny glittery pink things and tell our boys they can be scientists and astronauts. We need more room in terms what we think women can do. I’m so tired of seeing men online trying to tell the world that women do nothing important and can’t do anything important. There’s a lot of work to do to deconstruct this one.

When we think about identities, the urge always seems to be to draw a circle around something – be that about gender, Paganism, political affiliation or anything else. We draw the line that says these people are in and those others are out. Toxic gender ideas draw circles that say only certain kinds of men and women are real men and women. The rest of us, the ones who don’t fit inside the circle are non-people. We don’t matter, are excluded from things, are shamed, ridiculed, harassed – and this has to stop. If we all stopped trying to decide who isn’t a real (insert term of preference here) and invested that time and energy in being better versions of ourselves, we’d very easily get rid of a lot of toxic ideas and all that follows from them.

Setting intentions

There are many good points in the year to do a check in with yourself and see how things stand. This is one of them. Birthdays and other significant dates can offer others, and for those in the school system, the academic year also creates good moments for pausing and reflecting. How are things going? Is it as you hoped, planned or expected? If not, why not? What needs to change? What’s most important?

When we ask ourselves such questions we also have to remember that we aren’t exploring our lives in a vacuum. We exist in a cultural context that tells us what we are to prioritise – and so at this time of year many people will be contemplating diets and facing debt. Our main job is to make money for other people, by being exploited in the workplace, and exploited again as consumers. We are to work hard and spend hard, and try to ease our misery and dissatisfaction by buying things we don’t need and can’t afford and that will not save us.

I invite you to question this. I invite you most particularly to watch out for the idea of hard work being a virtue. When you look at something and say ‘I must work hard at this’ what does it mean? Is it that we feel a need to be seen as hard working? Does the appearance of hard work help us in some way?

Don’t work hard this year. Work effectively. Work wisely. Do what needs to be done. Work in a sustainable way that won’t break your mental health. Resist the idea of work for the sake of work. Work is not a virtue. It’s just that if working people are worn out from all the work they do, they don’t have any energy to protest, or to imagine some different way of living. Exhausted people lose self esteem and stop believing they deserve better.

Work wholeheartedly, work passionately, work soulfully, these are all good ways to be in the world. Work because you must, but if it grinds you down, don’t internalise that. Don’t make it who you are or what you are for. Don’t build a sense of identity around it.

I’ve just had a week off. I’ve used that time to dream, to ponder, to rest and let my mind wander. I’ve come back with ideas, and one of those ideas is about taking more time off. I do my best thinking and creating when I’m not trying to run flat out all the time. I also want a better quality of life. I want more time for reading and crafting because this will best inspire me. I want to live as a soft and lazy mammal, not as a busy little bee, because I have a soft and lazy mammal body, not a bee body. We should not be willing to work ourselves to death for queen and hive, or for shareholders and politicians.


When you can choose to disbelieve

There are a great many things that are subject to disbelief. Racial hatred, abuse and harassment, sexual hatred abuse and harassment, the practical and social difficulties grinding down the disabled, and the relentless misery of being poor. If I’m online any day, the odds are I’ll see someone questioning that these things happen, disbelieving victims and sufferers and offering alternative explanations.

The option to disbelieve comes from not being affected personally. So many people are so easily persuaded that if they haven’t seen it, it doesn’t happen. This means that when others try and tell them what happens, they ignore they evidence in favour of their belief, and so they still don’t see it happening.

Disbelief is most often followed by shaming and blaming. The feckless poor with their cigarettes and alcohol. The women who bring it upon themselves by having bodies and clothes and going outside. The disabled people who aren’t trying hard enough to magic themselves well. I think the worst of this is what comes up over race to try and explain away brutality, oppression and a rigged game designed to be unwinnable if you’re from the ‘wrong’ group. Often this is the worst of it because poverty is usually in there too, and the other things on the list can and do feature.

Disbelief means taking no responsibility. It means there’s no pressure to look either at your own behaviour or about the way you participate in a culture that allows this. Disbelief affirms the feeling that all your good things come from your hard work and virtue. You’re too clever to be raped, to get sick, to become poor. The illusion of safety and of being in control are comforting things.

Disbelief is also another form of misery to heap onto those already in trouble. Not only are you dealing with some vile thing, but you’re doing it surrounded by people who tell you it does not exist, is not happening, does not happen. You’ve made it up to get attention (because there’s so much glory, wealth and power to be obtained by admitting you were abused, right?). You’re lying. You’re trying to get out of something or get something for nothing or get special treatment. You’re a snowflake. You’re to blame. And when you’ve already been knocked down by something, dealing with people who refuse to believe it even exists it ghastly.

If people around you deny your reality, say your experience doesn’t exist or is your fault, that way lies madness. Being told you are the cause of the abuse you have suffered crushes your sense of self, takes away your self esteem, may make you question your own experience and your right to feel about it as you do. And of course if all you ever see is people denying that your problem is a real problem, you’ll be less likely to call it out in the first place.

If you’ve been there, it isn’t a belief issue. If you’ve seen it, you know it happens. You don’t have to question why someone would say something like that. You don’t try to figure out how it was their fault, because you know what happens. Disbelief is a luxury available only to those who do not know.

Polyamoury and fiction

Here’s a kind scenario I’ve seen repeatedly, in various forms of fiction. Usually it starts because a man has been discovered having an affair. “But I love both of you” says the man. “But you can’t,” says the woman. And thus the polyamorous possibilities in the situation are disappeared.

Love triangles are popular in stories – and not just romances. Tales where male opponents are fighting to win a woman are not unusual. Tales where a man must choose between two women, or a woman must choose between two men abound. I have no idea if this same structure is normal in queer writing, I’ve just not read enough to know.  Love triangles create tension, which makes them attractive to authors. Who will be chosen? Or will someone conveniently be killed off?

The underlying story is that choosing is the right thing to do. You are only allowed to be in love with one person. It is only good and natural to be in love with one person. This is pretty harsh on those of us who don’t fit the model.

I have spent many years talking about being a plural sort of person, because I want to challenge the shame around this way of being. It isn’t a lifestyle choice – in fact for a long time now it’s not been an active feature of my life at all. How I feel is not something I have much control over, and my capacity to love is what it is.

I have fantasies about a world in which being able to love more than one person is something to be celebrated. Where having more space in your heart doesn’t make you wrong, or shameful, and where the ‘happy endings’ to not mean having to choose one love over another. Of course, you might choose to do that, and if that’s your free choice then fair enough. Love who you love, express it how you will – it should all be fine. But the dominant narrative that love must be all focused on one person, is something I find really difficult.

I’d like to see polyamoury expressed as generosity, not greed. I’d like to see it out there in fiction as a possibility, not the impossibility we’re so often shown. I’d like a world in which honestly open relationships are more socially acceptable than going behind an established partner’s back.

I’d also like a world in which bisexuality is not automatically equated with plurality. A bisexual person is no more likely than anyone else to be polyamorous.

I’d like a world in which we do not see other people as things to possess, to own and to jealously guard. Where we do not feel diminished by people we love loving people other than us. Where we don’t automatically feel threatened by that. There’s so much competitive thinking around relationships, and the portrayal of relationships in fictive forms does a lot to reinforce it. We’re told every day through the media we interact with how it is that we’re supposed to be with each other, and those stories are very narrow, and have fear laced through them. Cling tight, own, control, fear the interloper, fear the lapse of attention, fear the sexier competitor… it does us no good at all, and better stories are certainly a possibility.

Why there is no room at the hospital

It is our fault we are ill. We did not heat our homes properly, the damp and the mould have made us sick.

It is our fault we are ill, not eating our five a day of fruit and veg has impaired our immune systems, but we couldn’t do that and afford to heat our homes to keep the mould at bay.

It is our fault we are ill, we did not get enough exercise to stay healthy while we were trying to earn enough money to buy fresh fruit and veg and keep properly warm.

It is our fault we are ill, we got so stressed when the car broke down that was getting us to the job that was paying for the food and the heating and the rent.

It is our fault we are ill, we didn’t take enough time off to avoid the mental health crisis when we had to take on second jobs to pay off the enormous bill on fixing the car that was getting us to the first job that was paying for all the other things.

It is also our fault that productivity is low because we’re exhausted and not able to take sick leave when we are sick because then we might well lose our jobs or have our pay docked and we won’t be able to afford the train fairs to get us to our jobs in the first place and then we won’t be able to eat properly.

It is our fault that there aren’t enough beds at the hospitals or enough nurses to care for us because if only our productivity had been higher the government could afford those little luxuries, like keeping us alive and able to function.

But it is definitely all our fault.

It has nothing to do with bankers, or the soaring cost of rent that pours money into the pockets of the wealthy landowners who are not legally obliged to keep their properties fit for human habitation.

It is definitely our fault and has nothing to do with money spent on nuclear submarines we can never use, or high speed rail that benefits so few of us. It has nothing to do with massive corporations declining to pay their taxes or billionaires taking their money off shore.

We’ve no one to blame but ourselves, clearly.