Women’s Lives. Men’s Careers.

What will it take for men’s intellectual acumen, or sporting skill, or career to be put to one side in order for fair retribution to be made when it comes to the complete destruction of women’s lives?

No one argues that the trauma will stop her career in its tracks. No one argues that she will wake up at night in a cold sweat, feeling his ghostly dream state hands around her neck for the 3rd consecutive time that week, even a year after the fact. No one argues that she was an excellent student, she was on track for a PhD and now all that is lost because she can’t muster up the courage to speak in a seminar, or focus on her essays. No one argues that her confidence will be shattered, that she will look around at other women and feel inferior. No one argues that she will continue to hear his words in her head –

“You think you’re so fucking clever, don’t you?”

“You’d be nothing without me”

“I’m going to kill you.”

No one argues that her potential won’t be fulfilled because she is dead.

Instead there’s a fixation on men’s intellect, their sporting acumen (Brock Turner – “the All American Swimmer”) , their roles in society, or the arts, or any industry that exists. To stunt men’s potential, however tentative that potential may be, is criminal. To not rehabilitate the criminal, who shows no remorse, is criminal. Any bad treatment of the rapist/abuser/assaulter is more criminal than the criminal act itself.

The caveat also being that he was only accused. Women make these things up, they exaggerate, you can’t rape someone you’re in a relationship with, she was as bad as him, she just wants money, she just wants to ruin his career, there wasn’t enough evidence.

And of course, any woman would put themselves on the stand against a man, knowing her sexual history will be pulled apart just for some cash, for revenge, for attention. Any one night stands? Unprotected sex? How many boyfriends have you had? You’ve had a traumatic past haven’t you, tell us more about that? What were you wearing that night? A thong? What did you expect?

No one willingly wants to do that.*

Domestic abuse and sexual violence is everywhere. In our homes, on TV, on signage on our A roads. As if to convince us that society’s priorities have changed. That we want to save women’s lives, improve their quality of life, help them escape their abusers, and stop men from being abusers in the first place. The overarching threat being that you will be found out, you will be caught, you will be punished.

But you all laugh, knowing that it’s just a marketing campaign, a storyline on a soap, a leaflet left somewhere to negate the need to actually do something real about it. To tell men that whoever the fuck you are, you can’t do this. Instead, rapists get big transfer deals which are only cancelled when sponsorship is pulled rather than based on morality, on doing the right thing for women.

Some would look at the Mason Greenwood case and think how far we have come. Manchester United have denounced him, Nike have dropped him. What did it take for those actions to be taken? His partner had to lay bare her trauma on social media. A police officer can witness the bruises, the hand prints around your throat, and it still will not be enough. Because, without visual, audio, literal evidence of abuse a woman will not be believed.

*I’m not saying there aren’t women who have made up claims. I’m arguing that a focus is put on a minority of cases which casts a shadow of doubt over every case, and therefore effectively distances the public from understanding the emotional, mental and physical turmoil caused by pursuing the perpetrator of sexual violence in our judicial system.

To all the albums I have loved before pt.2

I’ve been thinking about albums since my last post. Taylor Swift’s encompass a certain energy, they occupy a certain frame of reference for me. But there are others which sit in my psyche, which need unravelling, acknowledging and understanding: the albums which have a doubleness in their memories, the ones that I use to my advantage when I need a push, the ones I didn’t realise I’d avoided for years, and some which I’ve actively refrained from listening to.

I remember seeing Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and instantly playing the soundtrack afterwards in the car ride home. Now I listen to it though, and yes I see the film at a superficial level, the absurdity of the battle of the baguettes (if you don’t get the reference watch it again!) – I also remember that car ride home. The way that the album played as I desperately tried to prolong the silence between us. As I tried to drown out the unhappiness with humour, with noise. As I tried to halt the unsettling feeling of danger, as I tried to grasp onto that little bit of happiness, and forget what would happen once the car pulled up on the drive, or if not then, when I went through the front door. It was futile. Once the car ride was over that little snippet of happiness would be gone, and there’d be something I’d not done, or something that would cause annoyance, and I would be screamed at. So I tried desperately to bask in that little slither of sunshine before the darkness crept in. Now sometimes when I listen to the Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again Soundtrack I remember that feeling of being suspended in superficial joy above pitiful sadness.

Sometimes the memories can be rewritten, or there can be a few that co-exist and depending on when you relisten a certain memory comes to the forefront. I sat one day exceptionally hungover eating pizza and chicken wings in my pants with my best friend and a colleague who was a sort of friend but had stayed awkwardly long once everyone else had left. So we ate pizza and watched Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Sometimes when I’m feeling happy I see that memory too, and I laugh at the image of myself, and the absurdity of the set up. Or I remember the times that my best friend and I would shout “ALEXA PLAY WHEN I KISSED THE TEACHER” in one of the lockdowns last year followed by “ALEXA FULL VOLUME” when we were finding things particularly difficult and just needed to smile.

When I go to the gym and I need motivation I listen to Tame Impala’s Currents. It transports me to a time when I would walk my dog as fast as I could around the woods near my old home. I would look at my Apple Watch with expectation waiting for the pace per mile figures to decrease, and the calories burned to go up. As the sun shone and Spring broke into Summer I would use my feet as a means to reclaim my identity. Walking and thinking, and listening. Taking control over my body as the weight of someone incredibly unhappy, incredibly lost, dropped off, as I walked faster and longer and felt stronger. As I walked and wrote snippets of poems, or a novel on the notes app, or replied excitedly to the man from Keith on my phone. As the feeling of my feet treading on grass, through mud, and soggy puddles made me feel like home. On the occasions – rare occasions – that I felt compelled to run it would be those opening bars of Let It Happen that would set my pace and The Less I Know the Better the one that would urge me on when I thought I’d fail and remind me of the sparkling friendships I had made as the world sunk into lockdown, and I broke free.

My boyfriend and I have talked about long lists of bands we’ve seen, and the big ones we’ve not made it to yet. For me, Coldplay is the biggest. A band I’ve loved since adolescence. When I scrolled on social media a few months ago and came across the announcement of their 2022 Tour I was ecstatic. I hastily screenshot the announcement and sent it to my boyfriend. That was it, we were going. I scoured the internet for presale codes and more information. I sat that Wednesday morning as the album presale opened hitting refresh on my browser window(s) waiting for the tickets to appear. Then there they were – YOU’RE GOING TO SEE COLDPLAY the confirmation said. Ritualistically I started to listen to their back catalogue like revision. These were the albums I would listen to over and over again in those few years between being a teenager and an adult. Albums I would list in my top 10 favourites of all time. Albums that, now I hear them in my 27-borderline-28-year-old ears, I realise it’s been over 5 years since I’ve heard them in their entirety outside of the occasional track appearing on a playlist on shuffle. I started with A Rush of Blood to the Head and as Politik started to play over my headphones I was unconscious of why it had been so long and then as it hit the chorus – open up your eyesand I remember.

I’m 16 and we’re driving to school, my brother and sister’s first, and then mine. I was sitting in the front seat of our, probably not road worthy, white rover 414. The interior was out of the early 90s, sometimes it would unreliably stall or shake or stop altogether, my Dad would look at me and laugh while Life in Technicolour ii played in one of my ears. He’d laugh even when the car rattled to a stall and the petrol gage sat at zero. As we pushed it together as far as we could and then began the half an hour walk to the nearest petrol station. I didn’t mind telling my teachers I was late, it was all an adventure. These car rides now, as Coldplay played along to my Dad’s voice as he shared snippets of his life before I was born, told me anecdotes of being a troublesome teenager, and pointed out the fish and chip shop he used to go to after school, are sacred. And until I started revisiting the albums of my youth, they had been unconsciously filed away in amongst a myriad of grief which focused more on remembering the big moments, and not the 20 minutes I spent every weekday alone with my Dad.

There are some albums that I more actively avoid. Albums from my early teenage years, My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade and Paramore’s Riot that bring me back to times of angst and misconstrued anger which fell upon two people that aren’t here anymore. I’ve listened to The Black Parade recently and I hear it now with a new perspective, that of loss and longing and a feeling of stupidity of wasting precious years being a fucking moody teenager and sitting with two earphones crammed in and ignoring everything else. It also brings back something more, an era of what seemed like insignificant moments which passed me by at the time, but now I can go back to that place as I sit with my headphones on, My Chemical Romance blaring, I lift up the thick black fringe which hung across my face like a curtain, blocking out the sunlight of the world and see and relive them all; the smiles, and jokes and trips out and all the things that were unsaid but were there in the gestures, and I hold onto them.

To all the albums I have loved before (Taylor’s Version)

“Pushed from the precipice,

climbed right back up the cliff,

long story short, I survived.”

long story short – evermore, Taylor Swift

How can Taylor Swift continually create albums that not only perfectly reflect how I feel, but come at the time when I need them? Red (Taylor’s Version) came out on Friday (12th November) just when I need a new album to soothe me as I navigate this new world and grapple with my past. I need an album I know that, in a few months, or a year, I’ll listen to again and I’ll be transported back. The knowledge that this will happen implies that I’ll get through it, and that’s what I need more than anything. This is a power that only an album has, with all the nuances between tracks, the hopeful, the sad, the all encompassing, only such variety can reflect a period of life.

There have been two times in my life where I have driven around places carelessly – recklessly – in an utter state of despair, contemplating a relationship I knew was not serving me well. Reputation came out in the first instance – it was empowering and female driven (Bad Blood music video anyone?) and made me feel like fuck it! I can do this! So I did on a sort of whim. I walked down the seafront of my hometown; the garish arcade lights blinking to my left, the sea an inky blackness on my right, the horizon perforated by the minuscule lights of what lay on the other side. In the air was Christmas which was a few weeks away and all that that meant; unprocessed grief, sadness, accusations, discomfort. I chose to find out what that alternative looked like, away from the garishness, the fakeness. I found out quickly that without the falsity there was nothing, and I didn’t have the strength to face up to all the obstacles that stood in my way, all the pain that I had to work through to conjure up my identity, work that I’d have to do alone, as I had no one. So I fell backward with little decision making. A few years passed uncomfortably, enter Lover. This fantastic moving image of happiness; of love; of laughter and friendship that I didn’t have. So I started to drive around again aimlessly losing myself in the songs wishing I could feel what she felt, starting to understand that what I had, I didn’t want. I didn’t really know what I wanted. Now when I listen to Lover I’m reminded of how that longing, that absence, is now filled: that I know what I want and I have it. I listen to Reputation and that courage, although short lived, it was that little spark that eventually saved me.

Then came Folklore like a beacon in the darkest of nights which I listen to when I want to be reminded of the process of falling in love. Not just a romantic love or a platonic love but a falling in love with myself, a finding out of who I am that enabled romantic and platonic love to grow. It came out in maybe the second worst period of my life when I had gone from someone suffocated, to someone completely unstuck and, now I realise, free. I first listened to it with my best friend as I drove us back from Manchester; our first trip away together in our new budding friendship and my first trip away as a single woman in years. My tears ricochet felt like my fight song, like the “I can do this!” anthem that I needed. Only a month or so later I would find myself listening to folklore with the man I met online, the man I had texted back and forth for months while we sat in lockdown unable to meet. He would then text me as he drove along the North East coast of Scotland delivering baked goods, as the sun cast the sky in an orangey hued pink as it rose, to say he’d heard one of the songs on the radio, and thought of me. That album encapsulates that transitionary period of my life so well, from so completely and utterly lost, to found.

Evermore came out at a junction in my life. Where I could decide to move onwards, embrace a new future, let in new people. I’d listen to Evermore as I showered at my partner’s parents house where we stayed for 4 months over the winter lockdown. I’d sit and soak in a bath three times my width as snow fell outside and all I could see for miles was white. I’d listen to Taylor’s words like poetry which held me while I contemplated whether I deserved this. How I deserved this. How I’d come to find a functioning family unit which I could let myself get into, I could open up too, when I’d thought all possibility of this for me was dead. For the first time in 4 years I had a good Christmas. When I listen to Evermore I’m reminded of that happiness that I let in, and that I should continue to open up to it. That I deserve it.

I guess the magic of Taylor Swift really lives in Taylor’s Versions and the ability to experience an album with a doubleness not only in the action of re-listening, but in the fact that it has been re-recorded and, the most powerful part, reclaimed.

I first listened to Fearless when I had my first boyfriend, I did an art project for GCSE inspired by Love Story in that weird sort of era when the Twilight films were out too and love was more obsession than the healthy supportive love I know now. I listen to Fearless (Taylor’s Version) as a woman who has a complicated relationship with love. It came out when I was alone for the final few weeks in my old house and I needed to be reminded of the love I had found while I was waiting for you to come and move in with me, while we waited to move into our new home together. A reminder of that romantic love that grows from something platonic and real, based on friendship and mutuality not power. When I listen to it now I remember that short period of time of solitude where I acknowledged the strength of what I had found, said goodbye to my old life and came to a place where I am safe.

Now enters Red (Taylor’s Version) when I have the strength, the foundation, and the support to work through everything. To decide what and who I take with me into this new chapter, and what I can leave behind. If Taylor Swift can sift through her work, revise, revisit and reclaim, then so can I.

Live for a Career

Laid out in front of you is a linear path: get your GCSEs, then some A Levels, a degree, a master’s if you’re good enough, maybe even a PhD, then start a career, and progress up a directionless ladder motivated by incremental salary increases, inflating responsibility and minimising personal time. 

You must strive for these opportunities which are dressed up as successes. You must overstretch yourself to reach that next level, and the one after that and the one after that, wondering when will all this overachieving end? To be content in your place is to be seen as a failure. When are you going to take the next step? When are you going to focus on your career? 

It’s not even clear what that word means – career. It seems more like a contrived way to keep everyone pigeonholed in their teeny tiny boxes. A career is a linear path confined like no other. A trajectory only within your industry. You must go up and up this specific ladder even though it may become more perilous, even though that one beside you has rungs closer together. You mustn’t hop sideways or god-forbid go downwards. You must keep earning more and more! Take on more and more responsibility! Do what you enjoy less and less! Grind the gears of capitalist monotony! And when you’re 70 you can rest, you can enjoy your hobbies then with your dwindling pension, and health issues caused by a life of over-exhaustion

– if you make it.

All those things you enjoyed at school; art, dance, and reading become frivolous activities. They’re permitted on self-care Sunday if you have time. They don’t contribute towards your career; therefore, they are self-indulgent. They’re packed up in something called wellness which has been manufactured to try and counterweigh the longer working hours, dwindling pay increases and lack of job satisfaction. Suddenly picking up a paintbrush feels foreign, like trying to sign your name with your non-dominant hand. Dance can only be accommodated if it takes the form of a sweat inducing exercise session which sees the circles on your smart watch swivel round to completion. Reading is permittable at the end of the day if all other tasks are completed and only if you don’t fall asleep bleary eyed from a too-much-screen-time induced headache.

To say no to it, to the opportunities, is to be ungrateful. To say no is to not overachieve, and the only acceptable performance is the over, is the exceeding.  Now you’re failing, not living up to your promise, a promise that is quantified through salary, the brand of your car and how many bedrooms your house has. It doesn’t consider your happiness, the impact you have on the world, the number of smiles that you put on the faces of those around you. To be linear is to continue striving to the point of exhaustion. Why not be non-sequential? Learn one thing, move onto another, try something different, find what you loathe, what you love, what makes your heart soar, what makes your pulse rise with anticipation, what makes your breath clam up in your throat, your palms sweat. Find what makes your muscles ache, your mind stall. Find what fills you up with happiness at the end of the day and sends you off into contented sleep. Find what gets you up in the morning with a smile. 

One meagre measly ladder up to success can’t do this. You can find elements of a career that fulfil you but ultimately, it’s a means to an end. There’s more to life than contributing to a system that chews you up and spits you out when you become too old to bring benefit to it any longer. Learn, give back, mentor, enjoy, there’s more to life than striving to an ideal of a perfect career which does not exist.

Grief

I know myself that the third anniversary of my Dad’s death is not the best time to write this piece, it feels self sabotaging – self flagellation. Let’s pop open those old wounds, dig and poke around a bit until we get to a meaningful article, let’s use my own pain to write, and with every stroke (press of the keyboard but doesn’t sound great for literary effect) the wound gets a little deeper.

So why write this now? Why write something that I know is going to cause hurt, to cause pain, to bring up emotions on a day, when really, they can be done without. I’ll tell you why: because grief is an open wound – present tense. There’s no action of reopening, it is there, constant, present.
Grief is not a dull aching pain but sharp shooting moments of agony, of realisation, of longing, of not understanding. There’s an angry knot in the pit of my stomach, there’s vomit that creeps up my throat at the thought that death happened to you, that I will never see you again (sorry I can’t envisage some heavenly rainbow place in the sky), that all those memories, that life is gone. These thoughts creep out of the recesses of my mind, out of an inky void of blackness, in which there is nothing to fill – empty, gone.

Gone. What does it even mean?

I’ve seen it but I still do not know what it means. For 6 months I watched life wane away, from full moon, to gibbous, to quarter to crescent. But there was no new moon birthed in its place – just eclipse. Blackness. Nothing. That last phase was the hardest, watching you slip like a shadow around the moon out of sight, I could still imagine the sun being able to light up your eyes.

It’s been four years now. For a year this piece has sat, in the cloud, untouched. I knew it was there, sitting and waiting to be finished. For some sort of epic conclusion. Some hallelujah, some eureka moment of realisation – I am healed, the grief is gone! But it doesn’t exist. Another year has gone by, and I still feel the same. If not worse. As life goes on there are more opportunities, more situations that you should have been there for. More times I have needed you, in this last year more than ever. As the time passes, I change with it, the waves and tides wash over me, corroding and reforming anew in its place. It makes me wonder, would you really know me anymore? Has there been too much change? As the winding river of my life that you knew takes forks and splits into tributaries everything feels so different to what it was meant to be. This last year has been the most tumultuous, the most life changing. Maybe that’s why year 4 seems the most difficult of all. As I sat in an Edinburgh café with a coffee and an Eggs Benedict writing the opening to this piece, knowing full well that I wouldn’t be able to finish it, that it would be left discarded, did I think that when I next picked it up that my life would be like this?

No – but it’s also better than feeling like this:

“The worst part is when everyone else starts to forget, the first year, you get nice (unsure of the sincerity) messages “thinking of you” but as the years pass the day returns back to normality for the majority, it slips past without a blink of an eye. Here I am raw with the same emotions that hit me like a wave 3 years ago. It doesn’t go away.”

It doesn’t feel like that anymore. I’m not smothered into self-deprecating silence. I’m not isolated and ridiculed for my grief. I’m not made to think I need to “get over it.” I don’t feel like one of my goals for the year needs to be “stop being a cunt” because I’m made to feel like one constantly. Year four might be the hardest, but I’m not alone.

In Unison

Defunct hands turn
On a now timeless clock
Time is delineated by the sun
It rises and falls
As in unison we wake up
Walk into a makeshift office
Plug ourselves in
And type the day away

We form queues
Neat, ordered
As chaos ensues around us
Numbers inflate
Daily briefings do little
They do not dissipate
The continual dread

The new office love
Whose flame has now been smothered
Looks and glances
The brush of hand against hand
Is lost in translation
In a zoom conference
Secret whispers and comments
Fall flat as the video buffers

Tentative friendships
Founded on working hours
And break times
Become solidified in crisis
Infrequent exchanges
Polite hellos and goodbyes
Become hour long phone calls
And group chats on WhatsApp

Old friendships grow
Stronger than ever
As milestones are observed from a distance
Quizzes replace partying
Talking becomes the celebration
Doorstep drop offs
Window waves
Are the new normal
And we feel closer than ever

Sundays in Suburbia

Sundays in Suburbia. The summertime hum of lawnmowers, the congenial rotation of mowing each other’s front garden. The reward of freshly baked brownies, so gooey they stick to the roof of your mouth like gum. The jovial “good morning” as paths of dog walking neighbours cross. The friendly wave as you drive past each other. Children that become natural friends due to proximity. Their laughter and fun that bubbles over into neighbouring gardens. The two male neighbours that take it on themselves to tidy up the shared green areas, regardless of how bad a job they do. The Christmas cards and invitations that come habitually through the door. Decorations that change as the seasons pass: Easter. Eggs to pumpkins to baubles. Life in Suburbia.

I moved here for the city, but here I am in Suburbia. The antithesis of the bustling, busy, boisterous city. The city with its foreboding gothic architecture, it’s populous streets, it’s life that never stops, and then there’s suburbia – houses slathered with sickly pastel hues, perfectly manicured gardens preened and primed by a woman on the verge of being ensconced by the domesticity around her (maybe I’m thinking too much of Edward Scissorhands). The city is fast, youthful, suburbia is slow, mature. Suburbia symbolised settling down, giving up, the city was where the dreamers went. I saw the divide like opposites in my mind – the city was yellow and the suburbs blue, little did I know that they could merge together to bask in the green.

And there I am, I’m close enough to dip my toe in the enthralling pool of city life, I can pull it out just as quick and retire to the comfort of home. Walk the dog, wave at the neighbours, and in 15 minutes be marching through the city at metropolitan speed. Suburbia is not what it used to be. Women with their uniformed short blonde bob and brown boots drop their children to school, departing just after their husband leaves in the better car off the driveway. It looks like she doesn’t work, and he’s off to work at 6am to pay the bills. Really, she’s built up a tech empire from her sofa, and got him the BMW as a gift, but you wouldn’t know that. The children go door to door in the summertime, selling things for charity, to make a difference – their dreams are big. The suburban couple uniform is optional; there’s no blonde bob or stress induced receding hairline to be seen here. The uniformity of suburban living is out; dreamers are in.

Into the Lion’s Den

Clubbing used to be so fun. Dancing away in heels that blistered and mutilated my feet: then realising that anything that hindered the fun was out, so the flats were very in (they also enabled a much wider variety of dance moves). The alcohol would flow and every favourite song would come on. We got to the point where we did not care what anyone thought of us, we danced jubilantly – enthusiastically. We only went to the places that played the music we loved not the beep-beep-boop of an Apple Mac. It was great. There was a sort of impenetrable wall around us, like a hazy shield of alcohol that meant I never took any notice of what was going on outside of that candy flavoured bubble of post-teen fun. Then I would turn and suddenly it would become translucent where the pastel opaqueness had sheltered us. I could see, but I would turn again and there I would be in safety; re-enveloped in a bubble of my own denial. The bubble was flimsy, it was like candy floss, except instead of licking it, you just had to look at it too hard and it would disappear to nothing like it never existed.

The problem was, it was never impenetrable: it isn’t impenetrable. I can see through it now, out into the lion’s den where men linger salaciously. Then I realise, there was nothing around us at all. There was no safety net. We knew they were standing there all along, their eyes glistening in the dark, waiting for the moment that one of us would drop out of our circle. That was the only protection we had. Our dancing wasn’t carefree, now I remember the quick glances: was everyone there? Who was standing around us? The thoughts that swept over me every few moments as the alcohol began to wear off. The “you can never be too careful” of our mothers, our teachers and the horror stories that they told us ringing in our ears. The stories that meant that without fail we always went to the toilet as a group and our male friends would comment “Why do girls always go to the toilet together?” That was the problem, we did the token things like never going to the toilet alone, but still the maternal voices rang like stories, the unlucky girl, and the evil man who did that. What a rare occurrence we all thought. We were so wrong.

When they would pounce, it wasn’t an attack, but a sleek meandering into our circle. Sometimes drinks, sometimes help was promised.

“Do you want a hand with her?” They’d ask like butter wouldn’t fucking melt.

“Want some drinks ladies?” Eyeing up the drunkest of us.

Other times they’d just stand and stare. You can see the calculating look in their eyes, what one is the drunkest? What one is most likely to be left behind? What one is the youngest?

Some of them weren’t intelligent enough for calculation. Those were the scariest, the ones that have nothing to lose, you have no clue what they will do, and how far they will go. The ones who’s friends don’t even defend them if they’re confronted by a group of girls who have identified their pervert glazed eyes in a snippet of light.

“We’ll tell him, we’ll take him away” they say. Take him where? To another group of less suspecting girls. They look at you with apologetic eyes that say “we know, we’re sorry”. It’s not good enough.

The older ones too, perverse. Older than your dad, gammon faced and sweaty, and you know they’re only there because they’ve had success with this tactic before. This is where they go to pick up fresh meat, never mind what is at home.

As I’ve got older I’ve seen it more and more. As much as I drink I can’t shake the awareness, or the responsibility. They said that the novelty would wear off at some point, “clubbing isn’t fun forever.” I just grew fucking tired of negotiating away from salivating pricks to enjoy it anymore. Not only that, but I can step through the bubble now. I’ve broken down the fourth wall, and it isn’t pretty when I do. They never argue back. They know when they’ve been seen and have to fallback, walk away empty handed. I think they can see the truth behind my threats I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING I say in more violent words. I guess I’d learnt the hard way what happens when you let the sickly bubble of denial engulf you.

We can be screaming at the top of our lungs to Come on Eileen, shoes off, make-up smeared down our faces, we can literally throw up on them (true story) and men* still wait on the edge of darkness to rape us.

*Not all men, but too many to count (there are all some men who confront other men for their perverted rapist behaviour – thank you)

Women in Pain

“Take some ibuprofen”

“Are you fucking kidding me!?”

It was the 3rd time I’d been back to the GP describing the excruciating pain in my back, shoulder and arms following an accident on a bus. Tears flooded my eyes and began to drop uncontrollably onto my lap. The GP gave me that pitying look that all women know, that borderline eye-roll of here we go another hysterical woman. I’d described the pain over and over again, the pins and needles which ravaged my arms, and my hands, the sharp stabbing pains across my shoulders and my back. But still, the only diagnosis I got, was the implied accusation of hypochondria, all too obvious from the looks, the comments, the lack of basic care. If it wasn’t hypochondria, it was anxiety, it seemed that anything was more plausibly the result of a bus accident than a woman’s actual physical pain. It made no sense.

After 18 weeks of pain, 3 trips to the GP, mounting anger and frustration – I broke. I could not sit their passively in that cold GP chair any longer while given fleeting glances of you’re lying every time I described my pain. I could not sit and listen while my pain was dismissed, and reduced to something curable by over-the-counter ibuprofen so I made a scene. I cried, I showed my frustration, my anger, my pain. And like that – to rid the sterile office of the hysterical woman – appeared an appointment, finally to see a specialist, to have tests done, an acknowledgement that, no, I hadn’t been fucking lying for months on end!

It sounds like a happy ending, a what are you moaning about moment? But nearly 10 years later, multiple MRIs, neurological tests, blood tests and appointments later I live with a condition that is basically ignored and has only reluctantly been diagnosed after years of fighting to prove that my pain exists. I don’t bother to go back if it worsens or if I’m worried about it; because mentally, I can’t go through the accusations, the disbelief, the frustration, again – and for what – some ibuprofen?

When I was 17 and going through all of this initially, I thought it was just me, did I look like a liar? Was I unconvincing? Did I not look unwell? Not only did I suffer from physical pain but the whole situation caused so much emotional anguish, I truly thought it was something about me individually that made me unbelievable. I think the reality is exceptionally worse.

The “gender pain gap” can be seen all over the world. A 2001 study by researchers at Maryland University The Girl Who Cried Pain: A Bias Against Women in the Treatment of Pain found that women are more likely than men to have their pain dismissed, and if it is acknowledged, they do not receive the same aggressive treatment as their male counterparts. Women suffer even more when their pain is considered a gynaecological problem and such pain is put down to “just being a woman” so, er, get over it – basically. Too many women I know personally and professionally have had their pain ignored. Have been told they’re lying, exaggerating, looking for attention. Not just by Doctors but by their partners, their friends – why is a woman’s pain so impossible? It feeds into the Freudian (PSEUDO scientific) image of Anna O the hysteric, nervous and emotional woman who has become a typecast for women everywhere in that, any pain we may endure, is really just a symptom of our nervous female “condition” – psychological, and not physical. The fact that medical professionals are indoctrinated by this idea is problematic not only in terms of the inherent sexism but the actual demonstrable impact and threat to women’s health that it poses. Let’s not forget that race, age and ability also play a key factor in the recognition of pain and cause a further widening of the gender pain gap. But at the heart of all of this is a medical profession that actively delegitimises the voices of people and their pain due to an archaic patriarchalism which still, to this day is costing lives.

When I think about the gender pain gap I remember so vividly the glee on the doctors face as he turned up the volts in my Nerve Conduction Velocity Test and his disgust at my visible pain as he shot electrodes through my neck – “why are you crying?” He asked condescendingly in a how-on-earth-can-volts-of-electricity-through-your-body-hurt kinda way.

“Fuck off you sadistic cunt” or so I wish I had said.

Blue Monday

“Thought I was mistaken
I thought I heard your words
Tell me, how do I feel?
Tell me now, how do I feel?” 
New Order – Blue Monday

 

It’s Monday the 21st of January: “Blue Monday” 2019. A day when emotion is universally prescribed “blue” ergo, depressed. A day which, whilst at the same time as bringing mental health into the national consciousness, trivialises it. And as much as we try, as much as we fight it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – for some, so much more than others.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so problematic, if it weren’t for the fact that, under the facade of “Blue Monday,” sits a sinister, yet tenacious marketing tactic. It’s not overly surprising to learn it’s a PR stunt, devised by a travel company to boost sales, to make money. It’s longevity is pure evidence that this tactic is working. “Blue Monday” continues to exist to uphold capitalism by acting as an annual reminder that: if you feel blue, you should spend money (substituting the usual “If you love someone, spend money on them” (See: Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s day et al)) –

“Get a red cup to beat the blues”

“Blue Monday isn’t blue when you’re enjoying our Cheddar!”

“Cheer up your Blue Monday with a sneaky treat!”

Then you’ll feel better. Wouldn’t it be lovely to think that a bit of spending could “cure” what can be, incurable? Not medication. Not counselling. Spending. Spending, which is also –  *absurdly* – one of the main contributing factors to the 3rd Monday of January being “Blue Monday” in the first place. You can see where this is going… Hats off to the big wig advertisers (capitalists) that came up with this vicious cycle of individual suffering!

So why don’t I just shut up and enjoy my free cheeseburger?

Because there are SO MANY people for which a freebie just won’t cut it, myself included. For people who suffer from poor mental health on a regular basis (at least 1 in 4 of us), to wake up and find it is “Blue Monday” is the most self-fulfilling of all prophecies. It can’t be shaken by a fucking Costa coffee (cheese maybe). But jokes aside, poor mental health is something people live with, day in, day out, not simply annually. To trivialise mental health in this way, to disregard medical illness, for the sake of a pseudo-scientific “Blue Monday” is dangerous – for everyone. It’s not healthy for a calendar-event to dictate emotion, to set an expectation on a universal scale, to stuff our mouths with consumer items to stifle our words.

“And I still find it so hard
To say what I need to say
But I’m quite sure that you’ll tell me
Just how I should feel today”
New Order – Blue Monday