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.

Consent by Thong

consent

I literally wear this style of underwear everyday. When I’m going to work. When I’m unwell. When I’m on my period. When I’m feeling as unsexy as ever. When I’m going out. When I’m drunk. Does that mean – wherever I am – whatever the circumstance – if I’m raped, it’s my fault? Was I “asking for it” for routinely putting on a certain style of underwear? Or if I happened to pick these over another style on that day. Would it be a different story if I’d but on my Bridget Jones’s? If yes, I was feeling sexy, up for it, but not with him, not there, not right then, not when I said no, is it still my fault?

It’s terrifying that blame culture endures so far that a 17 year olds choice of underwear is deemed relevant in a rape trial, as a crucial point of ‘evidence.’ In scrutinising her underwear in this way, more agency is given to the inanimate object than to the victim herself, she is shamed for her choice, ridiculed, humiliated and ignored. In this courtroom, a slither of lace does all the talking for her, despite her protestations.

Is it surprising that sexual assault, and rape in particular, is so under reported? In Northern Ireland the conviction rate is less than 2% with any tactics being employed in the courtroom to ensure that the rapist is acquitted. In a number of cases this includes scrutiny of the victims clothing. Was her dress short? Was her top low cut? What underwear was she wearing? What is her sexual history? Has she had one-night stands before? Anything to demonstrate, that yes she was up for it, she was asking for it, she’s a slut and a liar; anything to deny that men use sex as a weapon of power against women.

The objectification of women that has prevailed previously, and the patriarchal ideology that propagated the idea that women exist for men, has been replaced with a theory which continues to reify the superiority of men. Women who have been raped are painted as promiscuous, slutty and attention-seeking. Why didn’t she shout? Why didn’t she scream? Why didn’t she resist? She must’ve liked it. She must have wanted it. Because the idea that a man is undesirable is unfathomable. The concept that she rebutted a man’s advances and told him no is impossible. Who could reject a man?

This thinly veiled consideration of ‘consent’ is nothing of the sort. In such cases, anything is employed to distract from the actual exchange of consent, you know, when she actually tells this rapist to fuck off, that no, she is not interested, she does not want to have sex with him. But no, we deliberate on her thong, her skirt, her top, her sexual history and ignore the most important facts of the case – she said no.

Misogynist Comedy

I applaud the torrent of criticism that has eclipsed Dapper Laughs over the last few weeks. I question myself – how did such a ‘comedian’ even rise to profundity? It strikes me as abhorrent that any woman, especially, would condone his crude, invasive and outdated sense of ‘comedy’. I’ve seen articles attempt to ‘support’ Dapper Laughs: why, if he is so terrible does he have such a large following? Apparently, logic steers one to the conclusion that, us ‘haters’ of Dapper Laughs are wrong, and of course rape jokes have now actually become pretty funny – of course. Doesn’t logic actually assert, that rather a crime of sexual violence against a woman now becoming humorous, that actually Dapper Laughs’ following is just as deluded as him. Surely, if raping a woman is so hilarious, wouldn’t the development of this strain of comedy also pursue the hilarity of men being subject of rape too? But that’s when we reach the real problem. Joking about raping a woman is fine, but raping men, that’s a step too far, that’s not ‘comedy’. So why then is the image of women being subject to the forceful violation of rape something that a comedian can approach as a topic for a merely ‘controversial’ joke? How can a woman’s pain be trivialised in such a way?  Because she is a woman.

Who is the victim in all this? Is it not the women who are reminded of past encounters of sexual violence, who writhe with uncontrollable discomfort at even the mention of the term ‘rape’, who for them, such a ‘joke’ brings back vivid images of physical and mental invasion? But apparently it is Daniel O’Reilly who is the victim in all this. I can image how painful it must be to ‘retire’ such an abominable character, much worse than having someone viciously violate your whole person-hood for the sake of their momentary pleasure. Daniel O’Reilly’s jokes (let’s not pretend they’re not his despite the pitiful attempt at blaming it all on ‘character’) are an imitation of this – a violation to women, but for the momentary pleasure of who? -The audience? Him?

C of (In)Equality

A resounding knock-back to women’s rights occurred this week. Yes women’s rights- we’re still fighting for those. It might seem like something you’d read in a history textbook or on a museum display. Women’s rights, mis-representatively so, evokes images of suffragettes marching in green, white and purple; a time of political protest, a time of inequality. We look back and think ‘well thank you for that ladies, procuring us the vote and all that’, but do we not realise that this struggle is not over? That feminism should still play a role in every woman- every girl’s life?

‘I hate feminists’ some women say. For some reason this term draws up an image of a hairy arm-pitted lesbian. But why? A feminist is defined as ‘an advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women’ (Oxford English Dictionary 2012) this should be every woman, every female should be a supporter of her own rights- at least. Why would any woman want to limit her own rights; prevent equality in the workplace, equal representation and an equal right to education? They don’t. Many women feel, as we are taught in history, that our battle for equality is over, it was procured in the past; however the evidence from the last week or so suggests otherwise.

One establishment that one would expect to support equality to the highest level is the Church. Everyone’s heard the phrases ‘love thy neighbour’ and ‘treat other’s as you would like to be treated’ which are apparently fundamental principles of the Church of England, after all it was Jesus that said them. One would assume that equal rights for men and women would be right up the Church’s street. Evidently this is not so. For some reason ‘neighbour’ and ‘other’ are only applicable to men; white heterosexual men for that matter and us women are left outcast amongst other’s who are deemed ‘undesirable’ by the Church. Targeting the Church of England directly, how can the state headed Church claim to be ‘of England’ when it is more unrepresentative of our country than any other establishment?

The guardian newspaper has argued that the Church, by voting against the ordination of female bishops, has committed it’s own suicide speeding up the previously gradual death of the Church’s importance in society. But rather than this has the pledge for women’s equal rights been murdered?

Parliament has suggested that the Church be forced on this issue: but applying force does not equal change. To some extent it’s not worth it- female bishops permitted for the wrong reasons, and realistically not many women will step up knowing the hostility they will receive from male bishops. But parliament has a point, for one, the House of Lords holds 26 Lords Spiritual, all male, impacting the degree in which the House of Lords represents the people and also holding significant influence over the passing of measures through the House. In terms of the law, religious institutions fare immunity from such equality legislation such as the Equality Act 2010, however the EU could challenge the immunity of the Church of England with the equality of women being one of the foundations of the ‘Treaty on the Functioning of the EU’ regarding occupation and employment. Again, the Church may be forced into allowing women the same opportunities as men. Force is not the answer, by using force we are only having favours granted for us by men, this doesn’t change the attitudes to women within the Church, nothing can do that, our own salvation lays within our own persuasion but as women seem disinterested by this gender battle our hopes are pretty low…

As the Church’s stature dwindles due to this issue we might wonder why people are making the effort to change the attitudes of an already dying institution. One simple reason:

this isn’t religion anymore it’s politics.

Legitimate Rape?

How the term ‘legitimate rape’ can ever be uttered astounds me. ‘Legitimate’? How can rape be illegitimate? – Of course you get those rare scenarios where a woman claims rape where she is cheating, or for whatever reason: but really the term ‘legitimate rape’ should never be used. Rape is rape and that’s it. There’s no disputing that. What’s even more detrimental in this debate upon the term ‘legitimate rape’ is that it was coined by the Missouri appointed senate nominee and member of the House of Representatives, Todd Akin, who claims that ‘legitimate rape’ should never lead to pregnancy. Akin’s ‘theory’ is that during legitimate rape the female’s biological defences work to prevent pregnancy. Rape is sex- sex leads to pregnancy: simple. You can’t make these ridiculous excuses- I’m sorry but Mr Akin what the fuck would you know about female rape? It’s appalling that this pathetic excuse is being used to try and justify the pro-life attitude of many Republicans so that basically even if I’m beaten horrendously, raped savagely, and then fall pregnant this is not rape and therefore I cannot have an abortion. I am left with the memories and product of this savage attack: which benefits Mr Akin in no way, neither does the abortion of this foetus- so why does he, and other Republicans care so much? It’s a point of principle: controlling and restricting women is just what men love to do, this is a matter that has nothing to do with them, something that they can never understand. Us women would never prevent or make men have a vasectomy, I’m sure they’d find it pretty ludicrous if we did, so why should they try and impose on our rights? More importantly why should other women impose on our rights? This attitude is only pushing us backwards as a society rather than forwards. Equality and human rights should be cherished not opposed upon by Republicans and Conservatives and that is legitimate.