The Power of Buffy

I am a great believer in the fact that if you pay enough attention and stop interfering in your own life, the universe often answers the questions you ask it. Today that was really brought home to me.

As you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about violence and the damage we do to each other, the violence inflicted on women in particular, and the vulnerable in general. I’ve blogged about it on several occasions in the last week or two in one way or another.

In my last blog post I had come to the conclusion that punishment after the fact is not really an option in terms of stopping this stuff happening and moving forward. I’m not saying that people who do terrible things don’t need punishing by the way.  I’m saying that it’s not how we solve the problem.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that meeting violence with violence is not the way. It really isn’t.  I’ve had to think a lot about this recently. Tilly turns sixteen this summer. She is going to Sixth Form College. To all intents and purposes she is a woman. She will be virtually independent.

We have had discussions in the family about whether martial arts classes might be a good idea to help keep her safe when she’s out and about. The options have been wide and the discussion has been pretty intense. In the end Tilly decided for herself that she didn’t want to do them, in whatever form. She has agreed, however, that we will look at courses for women on being street smart, and how to avoid or get out of potentially dangerous situations. There will be elements of self defence involved, but it is not the main focus of the course, and they look at using violence as a last resort.

The discussion has raised lots of issues, but I think we have hit on the right solution. Just because she may meet violence doesn’t mean that she needs to engage at the same level. Violence, in my opinion, only breeds more violence.

I believe we need to change our thinking, not just men, by the way, everyone needs to address their thinking. I believe we need several things to happen:

We need to educate everybody, not just boys, and not just in academic subjects. Until there is parity in education, and until we address issues like equality and fairness and humanity, and treating each other with dignity and grace as a part of that educational process, I really don’t think we’re going to get very far.

Today I signed this petition, the Stand #Upforschool petition, which is trying to reinforce the commitment made by the United Nations in 2000, which wants to see every child in school by the year 2015. Currently there are 31 million girls worldwide, being denied an education. Let’s change that. You can sign that petition here.

I believe that education is not just for schools though. We need to teach our children, right from when they are babies, about what is right and kind and generous and beautiful about each other. We need to reinforce that every day, whether it’s through simple good manners, or helping people in need, or sparing a thought for those who are less fortunate than ourselves.

I believe we need to instil in our children the understanding of our shared humanity, not what divides us. I believe we should celebrate what makes us unique and come together because of the traits we all share.  Today I saw this, and it summed it up perfectly.

We also need to talk to our children, and our peers, everyone in fact, about things we would sometimes rather not talk about. We need to stop keeping quiet about things that make us uncomfortable, or disgusted, or sad, or things we feel are inappropriate. I am not saying, by the way, that we need to be utterly graphic, but how can we stop things like the thirty odd years of Jimmy Savile’s abuse of the most vulnerable people in our society if nobody speaks, and nobody listens and people turn a blind eye?

We tell children these days to speak out, but if we don’t like to talk about the things they’re supposed to speak out about how can they learn to be unafraid and have a voice if the people they’re supposed to be trusting with information are afraid and don’t use their voices? What example do we set if we do not speak?

I believe we need to stand up for what is right. Someone asked me if I really thought the things I write and say make a difference. They asked me if I thought that my tiny voice against all those other voices, or all that hate, or all that violence would really do anything to change the world?

I don’t think Rosa Parks thought she was going to  change the world when she refused to get up for a white person on a bus one day. I think she just thought she was doing her small part.  That small part became massive, because one tiny action was a catalyst for others to do their part, and together all those little actions, small voices, tiny gestures, changed history. Rosa Parks was an ordinary woman. If an ordinary woman can stand up and do her bit and help change history, we can all stand up and do our bit and help change history.

Here’s what I think. My tiny voice might only reach one person, but if that one person reaches another, and another, things will change. If my tiny voice only affects my children, it will carry on with their children and so on.  I don’t think I’m going to change the world overnight, but I KNOW that I can change my own reality, and I KNOW that there is a chance I can change more. Why not take that chance? If I sow the seed, it might grow. If I keep it in the packet, it won’t.

And my tiny voice might just sit alongside someone else’s. I read this interview with Caitlin Moran today and what she says at the end really resonated with me. It’s on the subject of feminism, but I’m applying it in the wider context of showing up and speaking up here:

Feminism works like a patchwork quilt. We all do our little square and we stitch it together. If you are waiting for a super feminist to come along, if she fucks up once, everyone will go, “Oh, that’s feminism over and done with for another decade.” But if we are all doing it together, we can never break it. Feminism is as strong as whoever is taking part in it, which is why I invite you to come and be a feminist now. Come and make it stronger. Come and take part in the quilt. We’ve got booze. You can wear whatever shoes you like. It’s going to be a riot!

It made me think of the last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when the powers Buffy has become shared universally so nobody is powerless against their demons again. You don’t have to wait for the super hero to show up and save you. You are the super hero.

I’m polishing up the bit of me that’s Buffy.

Some random kind of mission statement

I realise that my blog must seem rather a scary place these days. I apologise if you’ve come for light entertainment and biscuits.

That happens too, on occasion, so, you know, feel free to pop back and check in from time to time.  Biscuits will never go out of fashion. Not on my watch anyway.

I’d just like to say that the old, devil may care me is still here.

I’d also like to say that contrary to what it might seem like, I do not hate men.  Far from it.

I know lots and lots of lovely men, some of them are absolutely delicious. I am married to one. I birthed another. My dad and brother are pretty spectacular human beings and as the saying goes, some of my best friends are men.  I also choose to believe that the majority of men are utterly fabulous human beings who would no sooner think ill of a woman because she’s a woman than fly through the air.

I did however, make a pretty fundamental decision recently, which is to not be afraid to speak my mind.

I never was, too much, but there was the odd occasion, contrary to popular belief, when I would bite my lip, or feel that I shouldn’t stick my head over the parapet.  Mostly I was afraid of upsetting people I care about. We don’t all hold the same beliefs, or march to the same drum.

I was wrestling with this over some issue or other, a few months ago, and then I thought about the fact that real friends know that you are difficult and obnoxious at times. They know that they might not agree with you about everything, but if they’re real, they don’t care, because they love you despite your political motivation or your strongly held beliefs about GM crops or whatever. Real friends can have a heated debate with you, and then put the kettle on, have a cup of tea, and five minutes later you can be crying with laughter together, because you know, that’s what friendship is.

I also thought about how many of us believe something is wrong, but don’t say anything for fear of offending someone, or because we’re scared to stand up and be counted. How many of us does it take to do that before something unspeakable happens? How many of us does it take to do that before someone, somewhere who is more than happy to stand on their soap box, ushers in some terrible law we might have been able to stop if we’d spoken out?

I don’t want to be someone who colludes in silence any more. I don’t want to be someone who opts for the easy option because I might upset the status quo. I don’t want my children to grow up having learned from me that passive acquiescence is the way forward. I don’t want them to be embarrassed to ask questions, to think outside the box, to stand up when they think something isn’t fair.  How can I teach them these things if I don’t show them how to do this by the way I live my own life?

So the ‘outraged of Knighton’ posts will continue as and when I am inspired by something that makes me seethe, and even if all they do is stop me keeling over from a rage related heart attack, and show my children that their mother was not afraid to stand up and be counted I will consider them a success.

Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil

I read this article today.

I really need to stop reading articles. It isn’t good for my blood pressure.

In it, one of the men who has been convicted of the gang rape and murder of woman on a bus in Delhi in 2012,  has said in an interview that it was the woman’s fault that she was raped and murdered.

Firstly he says she should never been out on her own at night. No ‘good’ girl would do that is what he says.  He goes on to say that only about 20% of women are ‘good girls’, and that is why women are more responsible for rape than men.

I like the fact that he’s used percentages there. It shows he’s really thought about this, and he’s putting up a good, strong, logical argument. After all, the numbers don’t lie, do they? I’m also impressed by the fact that he uses the word ‘girl’ as a way of diminishing womanhood. Top marks for really putting the boot in verbally on top of the rape and murder. If you’re going down, you might as well do it in a blaze of glory.

Secondly, he says she should not have resisted when he and his friends tried to rape her. If she had let them do it, they would have dropped her home after they had finished with her, apparently.

Which of course would have made everything fine. I am fascinated by the implication that the door to door service somehow offsets the whole gang rape issue. He has also said that it will now be her fault when other girls get raped and murdered because she’s set everyone a bad example by resisting rape and having the absolute nerve to live long enough to give evidence that brought him to justice. He says that other rapists will now be forced to murder their victims so they don’t get caught the way he did.

I’m so glad he’s got an utterly clean conscience about the entire thing. He’s got it all worked out.

This is a man who has been sentenced to death for his crimes, so let us not talk of tougher penalties under the law being a good way of bringing down crime numbers in cases like this.

It is the thought processes that allow crimes like this to happen, that give men justification for their behaviour in the first place that I think are the issue here.

What struck me here, and in the article I quoted from a few days ago when I blogged about the man who escaped jail after being found in possession of thousands of images of child pornography, is the sense from both these men that it is somehow they who are the victims in these circumstances.

From what they say it seems like they expect us to feel sorry for them. We are supposed to understand how a series of circumstances which they infer they had no control over, pushed them into such abhorrent behaviour that one of them is now under sentence of death.

The reasons they cite for being driven to those extremes all firmly point the finger of blame at women. The man in the child porn case was quite clear in laying the blame on his wife’s success.  You see, if she hadn’t left him on his own for so long, he would never have been bored enough to watch child porn for five years. If that girl in Delhi hadn’t been travelling at night, if she hadn’t put up a fight, if she hadn’t survived long enough to give evidence, things could have been different.

If only women would be quieter, less conspicuous, more passive, more obedient, less wilful.  If only women would be less desirable, stay at home, keep quiet, these men would be fine is the message I am hearing in their language.

Women are just too tempting, and once a man has been tempted, he is of course, totally unable to exercise any form of self restraint whatsoever. If women do not know their place, men cannot be expected to regulate their own behaviour and nor can they be blamed if they are forced to show women the error of their ways. Women are asking for it.

Men are, as we so often see, helpless victims of circumstance, and women are manipulative and have powers which they wield to terrible effect…

Until they go too far.

When that happens it is entirely their own fault if they reap the whirlwind whether it be through being beaten to death, or because their husband turns to child pornography for solace instead of trying to talk to his wife and sort out the problems in his marriage.

From this you would think that women were so terribly frightening and so power crazed that it might come as a surprise when you realise how few women actually get to exercise that power in any public sphere. You think they’d be running the world by now.  It’s a good job they’ve got men like these lovely individuals around to keep them in line one way or another or goodness knows where we’d be.

This all smacks of the Victorian dichotomy of the angel in the house versus the scarlet woman: the polar archetypes that women have been forced to ricochet between for decades, being punished for failing to be either, or both or neither. You would have thought that we wouldn’t be drawing these parallels in the modern age, but it seems that there is still an underlying belief that these are the only roles women can play, and both of them are subject to approval from or punishment by men.

It is not just rape, murder, and paedophilia I’m talking about here. I’m also thinking of issues like Gamergate, where women dare to comment on what some men consider to be ‘their’ territory, or the debacle over Jane Austen’s face being on the £5 note, and the vicious, hate filled trolling of Caroline Criado-Perez.

Even if a woman knows her place and stays indoors, it seems she also has to shut her mouth, her mind and her legs in order to be allowed to even exist without some kind of brutality being meted out to her.

What then though? What if she operates within these confines? Would she be too much of a door mat, not have enough spine, be too frigid? Would she be asking for it in a different way? What about the women who do suffer in silence and then get asked when it’s too late: ‘Why didn’t you say anything?’ , ‘Why didn’t anyone do anything?’

It seems to me that women in these circumstances are never going to win. You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.

That’s what is so frightening to me about these cases.

What these men are really saying is that a woman can only be truly ‘good’ if she is utterly absent from herself in any way, an empty vessel for a man to fill with the idea of what he wants a woman to be.

Basically, you might as well be dead if you’re a woman and you run into a man like this.

Dead women are no bother at all you see. They don’t answer back. They don’t have an opinion. They don’t get in the way. They don’t do better than men at work, or take the place of your favourite male actors in films. They don’t want to do sports that only men should be capable of. They don’t want to compete in any way with men or their fragile sense of self worth.  They won’t question men when they want women to look after their children,  behave like a mute, keep house like an unpaid skivvy, fuck like a whore and dress like a school girl. They don’t get too fat, or too wrinkly, or too disgusting to please.  They don’t grow up.  They never let men down.

And if they won’t lie down and accept the living death they’ve been so kindly alloted like the ‘good girls’ they are supposed to be, then who can blame these men, and men like them if they take matters into their own hands and kill them for real?

MOT

Today has been all about the maintenance, the maintenance of me.

I was due to have a smear test this morning. I fretted about this for most of yesterday on and off. Mostly I worry about what to wear.

I know this seems absolutely insane, but trust me, you do not want to be wriggling out of stone washed jeans with the help of a practice nurse, the angle between the radiator and the door, and a pair of cold forceps. Nor do you want to be dealing with poppers, lacings, complex arrangements of buckles and/or anything that means that you have to linger longer than is humanly necessary in the presence of someone who is about to stick an icy sommelier’s corkscrew up your foof whilst making small talk.

You want to be in and out like a ninja.

Ideally you want to wear an A line pinafore with enough material to cover your head and block the view of any squinting, grunting, sweating people working away at the sharp end of proceedings. You need easy release bloomers, or none at all. I don’t feel safe in a pantless state I’m afraid. It makes me very agitated, but if you’re all gung ho commando, go for it.

As for footwear, flip flops are good at being easily off and onable, but not good for speedy exits, so I’d suggest espadrilles.

The final touch to the whole ensemble should be a rubberised face mask of President Reagan a la Patrick Swayze in Point Break, to avoid all humiliation when meeting people who have stared into your undercarriage, just in case you bump into them while buying cat litter in Tesco.

In this weather you will also want to add stout socks and a serious winter coat. It is bloody freezing. Really you should try and sort out your timing so that you have the damn examination in the summer.

Or not at all.

Today ended up being not at all, due to the fact that my period arrived early and has given me a week’s respite from the pinafore and espadrilles ensemble.

Because of this, I spent the first part of my morning leaping around in glee like Anne Boleyn being given a pardon by Henry.

I spent the second part having my hair done by Jenn, a lovely friend who I discovered is an aces hairdresser who will come to my house and do the necessary for 50% less than I pay in the salon. There are many added bonuses. I know the biscuits are good. I make a damn good pot of coffee that doesn’t taste like weak cat pee, and because Jenn is my friend I don’t have to talk about where I’m going on my holidays. Today she bought me some lunch, a noodle and enoki mushroom dish. You don’t get that in Krazy Kuts.

Buoyed by the success of all of this organising of my person I decided to stop ignoring the dentist and booked in for my six monthly check and scale and polish.

Then I was exhausted and had to have a little lie down. I hate doing this caring for my person malarkey. I realise that I am one of the most low maintenance women on the planet. I find myself feeling resentful if I have to brush my hair more than once a week. Apart from my daily needs in terms of being sanitary, I spend as little time in the bathroom or getting dressed as possible.

I just think of all the other stuff I  could be doing with my time, and then generally just go and do it instead of plucking my eyebrows or mowing my face or whatever thing it is that we’re supposed to do these days. It’s just exhausting, and the more you do, the more you have to do. Better not to start at all, or before you know it it will be pinafores and Espadrilles all day long instead of once every few years.

Not bad, not bad at all

The small boy and I have been holding the fort this weekend. Jason has been scampering about the woods dressed in orcish splendour. Tilly and Tallulah went to London to spend the weekend with their dad.

On Friday evening Oscar and I planned to celebrate by eating risotto. It is the way of our people. The girls’ dad got stuck in traffic on the way to pick them up so they ended up eating it with us. Tilly was delighted as she has decided after many years that risotto is fabulous. Tallulah only likes Sasha’s risotto, and we didn’t have that, so she wasn’t thrilled, but she persevered bravely and tried not to rain on our parade.

On Saturday we interspersed intensive bouts of homework with reading, reading and reading. Oscar and I finished the fantastic Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman. We started it on Monday and finished it on Saturday evening. We recommend it to everyone. It was awesome.

We spent our afternoon and evening with granny and granddad. Oscar mostly glued to his iPad, learning hacks for Skyrim, and me and granny mostly glued to the Saturday papers and the plethora of crosswords they offer. We sat in front of the fire, chewing our biros and desultorily watching the rugby. It was a splendid way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon.

This morning we slept in late, emerging, blinking into a bright, sunny morning. It looked so nice we arranged to go to the park with friends in the afternoon after finishing the dreaded homework.

As soon as we got to the park, the weather took a turn for the worse. We spent about an hour shivering around being terribly British and pretending it wasn’t too awful, before it started to rain and we could avoid the truth no longer. We decamped to our house, the kettle and the X-Box, much to the delight of us all.

When Jason got home from his adventures we bundled into the car and went for such a late lunch it was more of an early dinner with some friends, before coming home to welcome the girls in from the cold.

It has been a very sociable, very bookish weekend, and when we got home, the companion book to The Wells Bequest, The Grimm Legacy, had already been delivered thanks to Amazon’s new Sunday delivery service. I don’t know who is more excited about this, me, or Oscar.

Mind The Gap

Yesterday I was listening to Woman’s Hour as I drove aimlessly to and from Sainsburys, having forgotten my purse by carefully filling it full of cash for the sole purpose of going to Sainsburys, and then leaving it on the kitchen table.

Jenni Murray was interviewing a journalist from Grazia Magazine. Grazia are celebrating their ten year anniversary of publication by sponsoring some research on how women’s lives have changed in the last ten years.

Some of the things that have changed for women are good.  We have more of a voice these days, clearly we do. Look at this blog for a start, and nobody has tried to burn me as a witch for ooh, ages.

It was also mentioned that women apparently no longer feel the need to ‘have it all’.  I am glad about this. I never wanted it all anyway. It seems to me that ‘having it all’ was a bit of a con trick actually. What having it all actually meant was working four times harder than anyone else, whilst still failing to do everything and being too knackered and miserable to enjoy the bits you did have. Having it all just meant that everyone else got to blame you for all the stuff that went wrong too, because you would inevitably be the one in charge of the ‘all’.

No thanks.

One of the things that has not been so good for women is being paid what they are worth. The pay gap looms large, despite the fact that the Equal Pay Act came into force in 1970.

I thought about this well considered blog post by Mrs. Trefusis with her thoughts on what it is to be a feminist in this day and age.  In it she states that on average, for every £1 men earn, women earn 85p.

This is, of course, an average. There are many women who earn considerably less than their male counterparts I am sure, and I know that critics will say that there are women who earn more than their male counterparts, but I’d like to know what the percentages are, given that I also read recently that men occupy about 80% of the top positions in UK businesses.

Interestingly in an election year in which parties are going all out for the women’s vote, only 22% of our MPs are women despite the fact that 52% of the population is female.

What are they doing to encourage women into political life? Well, they’ve painted a bus Barbie pink and are driving it around towns to try and encourage women to engage with the difficult issues of the day.

That will help.

So we still have pay inequality. We have pay inequality which leads to problems like the potential bankruptcy of Birmingham City Council, who face having to pay millions in back pay to 170 women who fought in the High Court and  won a claim to get equal pay for work they had done for the council where the council had paid men on the same grade more money.

Numerous articles published after the women won their case were printed in which the council complained about the fact that this claim could make them bankrupt and it ‘wasn’t fair’, not because those 170 women had taken all the money, but because it could lead to other people trying the same thing, which makes you wonder what else they have to hide.

As Inigo Montoya says:

“You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means”

I would say that it is not fair for people doing the same job on the same pay scale to be paid different amounts of money for what they do based on whether they have a penis or not.  There are not many jobs in the world that specifically require you to own a penis, and being a cleaning operative is definitely not one of them.

One of the arguments is that the pay gap is skewed because women often choose jobs which are naturally lower paid than the jobs that men choose. I would argue that quite often ‘choice’ is not an issue. Women very often work, and look after their children, and take care of their houses, and will turn out to be the primary carers for their aged relatives when the time comes.  Men very often do not.

Finding a job that allows you to balance all those things, and take time out when your child is sick, etc, is not easy, and quite often, the low paid, part time jobs that have flexible hours are the only ones that are suitable. They are not necessarily what a woman would choose to do.

People might say that this division of labour is natural, because women are the ones to have babies. I say that there is nothing natural about women having babies, finding full time child care, juggling all the chores, running their household and working their arses off, mostly to pay for all the child care and help with cleaning if they’re lucky enough to earn that much, while men merely go to work and come home. It is not natural, it is super human.

Employees who don’t want that level of skill in their businesses must be nuts, and those kinds of organisational abilities should be encouraged, supported and properly paid for whether you’re a man, a woman or a donkey.

I would say that this picture is changing for some, if not all families. It is a good thing when I see more men picking their children up from school on week days. I know that many more men are part of a team that helps run the house, rather than sitting aloof from it and watching their wives/partners run themselves ragged,  but there is still a long way to go.

Until then it seems we have to mind the gap, and I do mind. I mind it very much.

Other, less horrible things

I’m going to have to put a new post up.

It’s too awful having the last one on the home page. Even I can’t stand it and I wrote it.

It’s still up if you want to read it. Absolutely fine if you don’t.

Let me tell you about other stuff.

Tilly went on a mono printing course after school. I was quite jealous. I’d like to do some courses on lino printing, wood block etc eventually, when I haven’t spent all the money on shoes and theatre trips.

I was also mildly obsessed with the idea that she would come back having made a huge, inky monobrow. Sadly, she didn’t. She just came back covered in ink, which is pretty standard for Tilly to be honest.

I watched the footage of Madonna falling over on The Brits last night. I didn’t watch The Brits at all. I watched Bake Off, which was superb and lovely, and then Wolf Hall which was exceptional. I have loved the series the whole way through, but the last episode was absolutely phenomenal television.

The Madonna thing came to my attention via my Twitter feed, which went absolutely crazy, and which made me a) howl with laughter and b) realise how very English the demographic of my Twitter feed is. My main cause of hilarity was about a million people all posting pictures of Edna from the Incredibles shouting ‘No Capes!’ which was a stupendous and apt thing to do.

Today I have been entertained by my friend Gavin who posted this article about some llamas on the run in Arizona, and then kept me up to date on Facebook with a running status update which was glorious. Hoorah for the llama two say I. I am saddened by the fact that they were captured, heartened by the fact that they were captured by expert lasso techniques. If you’re going to be captured at least be captured in style is my motto.