porntificating

Anti-porn feminists have always made me feel a bit weird. Part guilt, part scorn, part superiority of the so-called "sexually-liberated woman". I occasionally watch porn, have done for many years now (which, looking back, really can't have been a good thing for my psychological development) and I haven't really seen a problem with it. It's something I used to bring up with boys - it sort of marked me as their equal, even their superior. It was a way of saying "hey, if you're going to try and intimidate me by making crass jokes about your penis, I'm going to do the same about my orgasms." For women, owning your sexuality can feel incredibly empowering. It's the conversational red lipstick. But our sexuality has been misrepresented, packed in perverse shiny plastic. We are told that our sexuality is contingent upon us being adventurous and modern, upon us knowing what that weird thing you saw on pornhub is. Let me say this, let me remind myself: there is nothing adventurous or modern about porn. Porn is sugarfree sex, without the nutrition but with the exploitation. You are a woman. The history of your sexuality is lustrous and sensual. It is birth and death and blood and joy and suffering and isolation and female companionship. You do not need to watch 5 minute clips of women being creampied to be the sexual equal of a man.

Even very mild porn, where it's all about missionary and a little oral, is more damaging than is obvious. The words used, the situation, the technique of seduction can all normalise really gross and abusive behaviours. I've often watched clips and felt like something deeply wrong was going on, even though the actress consented and her character seemed to be enjoying herself. It isn't so much to do with what they're doing, but where they're doing it, or who they are. Tropes like the guy who drops off a package (yeah, pun intended) for a lonely idle housewife, like the professor and student, the hidden camera. These are all situations which, in real life, would be traumatising. And while teenagers are unlikely to re-enact these scenarios (or maybe they do, who knows what kids are doing these days), watching this stuff repeatedly does blur the lines between what is sex and what is rape. Though this is true for all genders, the most mainstream porn is where you're least likely to find women on the dominant end. I wonder, do young men generally feel the same discomfort as I do when they watch these scenarios? Or is it only because my gender is the subject of abuse? 

If porn misrepresents sex, it does even less for female sexuality. Go onto any straight porn site* and skip to the end of a few videos. See how many of them end with a man ejaculating. See how many of them end with a man ejaculating on a woman's body - her face and breasts are obvious targets. Then see how many end with a woman having a realistic orgasm. Not fake squeals during PiV sex, but an actual orgasm after receiving some actual attention. Not only does porn teach boys that this is what sex is, but it teaches girls that they should put up with it. Porn teaches woman that their orgasm is an optional add-on, a luxury (you might even find it on the fetish section). Porn teaches men that their orgasm is the point of the game. I would go as far as to say that porn isn't just misrepresenting sex, but destroying it. In porn, there is a formula - a formula which revolves around male sexuality and not only sidelines female sexuality, but pretends it doesn't exist. Women in porn are glorified fleshlights**; too many young women are finding their sex lives reduced to same utilitarian process.

I regret that it took me so long to reach this conclusion. I regret searching for porn I could tolerate and not pausing to examine why the other stuff made me squirm. It took finding a porn site that romanticised taxi rape to make me realise that there was something very, very fucked up going on. It took so long to realise that the (fairly vanilla) porn I've been watching, with only a few slurs and occasional violence, is not harmless. I have defended the industry with that famous line - "people are smart enough to know the difference". But really, are we? I've met boys who don't know that girls have pubic hair. I've met boys, too many boys, who think that woman secretly enjoy rape. Boys who think it's ok to force themselves in without foreplay, who think that "no, don't do that" mid-sex is just normal dirty talk. And I'm not laying all the blame on porn, but really, where else do we learn about sex? We certainly don't get taught about it in school - yeah, maybe if you're in a good school you might learn how to put on a condom in year 10. But where do you learn about how to actually have sex? You watch, you memorise, you internalise. I never realised how harmful this process actually is. 

* I'm particularly talking about straight porn in this paragraph. There are problems with queer porn too, though arguably less, which I'll talk about another time. When I say about women in porn, I'm not just referring to cis women, either.
** just to make this clear: I mean the characters, NOT the actresses. I have nothing but support for women who choose to work in the porn industry; blaming them would be like blaming Amazon workers for corporate tax avoidance.

why I'm a feminist

I get asked that question a lot. I usually answer with some vague rant about sexual harassment or rape culture or those bloody magazines and their unrealistic standards of women, but the question always seems a bit ridiculous. For me, feminism wasn't a question of why but of when; it seems inevitable that any woman living in a patriarchal society without blinkers over her eyes is a feminist, though maybe without calling it that. I know that's not the case, and maybe feminism requires a certain state of mind to begin with, but for me it is far more a perspective than a set of beliefs. It's looking at the world and knowing that something is very wrong.

I'm not sure when it dawned on me, but it was probably quite early. I was definitely a feminist by the time I was fifteen and receiving careers guidance. I said I wanted to be a journalist. He assumed fashion and told me I didn't need any qualifications or experience for that. Maybe I should read some magazines, though. I was definitely a feminist while I sat at the back of the class with the other girls while he talked to the boys about the army and engineering and law, pouring over pamphlets with men on the covers. But it was much earlier than that, I think. Maybe when I was seven or eight and two of my friends were raped, or when at eleven it happened to another. I heard of more in the years that came after. Rape after rape after rape. Never any justice. Never any understanding of how a child can be made to testify in a court only to see her attacker set free. Never any words.

Maybe it was before that, at six or so, when my friend was declared a slut because she'd had three boyfriends that year! (And what an uproar when she started holding their hands.) The boyfriends were never sluts of course, but heroes. Or when sat around the table in art class, the boys would use the name of my friend's rapist to shut her up. It always worked. Or when at fourteen the same friend had her drink spiked I tried to drag her out of an alley while a boy groped me. Maybe then, or maybe the next day when they told me I'd ruined the fun by ringing my mum to pick us up. Maybe it was when at fifteen, my ex-boyfriend became a legend and I became a punchline.

Maybe it was when a boy called out to me in class that I should blow him, and everyone laughed, or when a friend had to leave school for a while because the same boy was trying to feel her up. Or when I moved to London and immediately had a man slide his hand up my thigh on the tube, or when every girl I spoke to had a similar story - usually far more than one. It was definitely by the time I tore up all my copies of Vogue to make two collages which still hang on my wall, and definitely by the time I realised that starving myself was a social problem as well as a personal one. I was never involved in feminism then, never used the term or even knew what it meant, but I was one. I was one from the day my birth certificate was filed, without my father's signature and with all the connotations that held for my mother. There was no epiphanic moment when I chose to believe in feminism. It happened, necessarily, because of society.

Since then, since I've become an "active feminist" if you like, it's been more complicated. There are many things I don't agree with and many that make me want to stop associating with the word altogether, like transphobic feminists or those that advocate banning sex work and pornography. There are many feminist issues that simply don't matter to me, like bank notes and page 3 - while I recognise the value in those campaigns, they don't strike the same chord as issues which affect me and those I know directly, viscerally. I've felt disenchanted with feminism as a movement, and I've retreated a bit. We all need breaks. But in doing so I've returned to feminism at its most personal and its most painful. I won't and can't stop believing in feminism as a perspective. That sort of feminism didn't start anywhere, it just is, as long as the world is as it is. I never chose to be a feminist; it was guaranteed.

Russell Brand's revolution

I was impressed with Russell Brand's Paxman interview. I still think he's a bit of an insufferable, culturally-appropriative, self-righteous prat - but a prat who made some very good points and stunned a certain reporter into silence, which alone is worthy of the internet equivalent of a standing ovation. He's bang on about dissatisfaction in the lower classes, about a government that represents the interests of the few at the expense of the many, about a democracy that isn't all too democratic. These complaints are common sense, but the direction he takes them in is not. He calls for a revolution, one that's made of equal parts Marxism and anarchism. He believes that this revolution is right around the corner, and we should all stop voting to achieve the critical mass of dissatisfaction that will finally lead to a glorious, egalitarian utopia.
"I will never vote and I don’t think you should, either. To genuinely make a difference, we must become different; make the tiny, longitudinal shift. Meditate, direct our love indiscriminately and our condemnation exclusively at those with power. " - Russell Brand, writing for the New Statesman 

Yes, Russell, that's all very nice. Meditating and eating kale and glorious revolution etc; I'm sure the world would be a much better place. But what if a revolution is not right around the corner? What if, come 2015, young people take your advice and don't vote - instead allowing the Tories to sail straight back into power, maybe with UKIP at their side. And imagine we have to endure another five years - with the revolution mysteriously dormant - of elitism and poor-shaming and an added dose of racism from our government.

I'm not saying that Britain will never have a revolution, because predicting the future implies a kind of arrogance that I'll leave to Brand and his lot. It might, but it also might not; and in the meantime, we need to work with what we have. And what we have currently is a government which makes things better for the rich and worse for the poor. Even if voting in another party (*cough* Labour) won't cause a shift in the whole paradigm that Brand keeps banging on about, it might make life easier for people who are struggling to afford food and the bus fare to school. A government without a bedroom tax would be better than one with it, and if you're going to ignore these day-to-day, solvable problems to look only at the great spiritual deficit of capitalism, you are an elitist.

Our political parties are cuts of the same cloth in many ways, but not in all, and some governments are a very different kind of cloth than others. The welfare state would not have been created had people not voted for Attlee in 1945. The bedroom tax would not have come into being had people not voted for Cameron in 2010. Voting does matter, it does genuinely make a difference. So until Brits rise up in revolution to form a socialist utopia, fucking vote.

Dear Sun

Sun, right now there's a girl eating breadcrumbs
tearing apart a homemade loaf, throwing away
the bits her brain deems
dangerous

Sun, there's a girl fucking as vigorously as she can,
counting the calories burnt
under her breath, aware of every
respiring cell

there's a girl, Sun, who gave up on life age seven
but she's still here, ten years on
still hammering with her tiny wrists,
demanding better

Sun, there's a girl who fainted in the college canteen
who won a battle against a pack of fish and chips
and escaped genocide at five
she's worth more today than you'll ever be

Sun, there's a girl opening her skin because
she can't take it any more
she's seventeen and she's saved at least
as many lives

these girls are mental patients.
they're also students, geniuses, artists,
daughters, writers, volunteers, overachievers.
and killers, Sun?

you shouldn't be scared of faceless crazies in straight-jackets, Sun
you should be scared of that girl you see at the bus stop in her school uniform
of the quiver-voiced teenage picketer with big ideas
of the girl with the silly little blog

you should be terrified, Sun,
because these girls have a third of your years and a hundred times
your strength. and one day
maybe they'll kill you

mad pride, past tense (tw)

I've been excavating my old illnesses lately. I remember very little of those two years, and little more of what preceded them. Sometimes my mum or friends will recall something I have no memory of, and I know that they have a better idea of what happened but I'm too ashamed to ask. So I've been trying to piece together what happened based on my fragments of memory - distorted and messy as they are - and old blog posts, without which I think I'd have no sense of identity. I'm still trying to figure out the details and it'll probably be a long time before I share them, but something I've become absolutely aware of was the sheer madness of the person I was. Psychotic, delusional, suicidal mad. Unable to be left in a room alone because I'd hurt myself. Purging because I ate more raspberries (a calorie each) than I'd factored into my intake plan for that day. Walking around town in the middle of the night, frantic, looking for somewhere that sold laxatives, painkillers, anything to make it stop. Bingeing and purging before school, in school, after school, all night. Back then, I used words like control, empty, perfect; now, I am faced with words like bulimia, history of self-harm and suicide attempts, crazy.

I've been self-harm free for almost 17 months now, though it feels like a lifetime; a whole other person. My eating disorder disappeared more recently, maybe four months ago, and yet even that feels almost mythical now. If I dig deep I can remember, like some half-forgotten nightmare, the panic and self-loathing so powerful that I took a blade to my skin and tore at my throat with my fingernails. But only glimpses, and I can't tell if they're real or imagined or some combination of the two. I can't relate to that person now, and yet I carry the marks on me still. I feel, for the first time in years, continuity with the person I was before all this happened. I can listen to the albums I loved at 12, 13 and feel the same feelings I did then; I look back at the years after and feel nothing. It's like a great gaping hole in my past. I have no fucking idea what happened.

Which is why I'm reluctant to carry the mad pride badge, even though the failures of the mental health system and the stigma and the discrimination make me want to go back to smashing down doors. I'm writing this because I saw Alan Farrell's (a representative of the Irish parliament) tweet suggesting that mad people shouldn't be given an airing on television. And Miley Cyrus' tweet, and every other vicious comment I hear every day - by strangers and by people I trust - about those suffering from mental health issues. It's everywhere, and it's horrible and heartbreaking, and yet I don't feel personally victimised by it like I do by sexist or classist language. And that lack of immediate response, I think, is proof that it's over. The moment of looking down at my arms and being confused, just for a second, by their criss-crossing lines: that's the proof.

I was mad once, for a couple of years, but I'm not any more. I'm neurotic always, premenstrually suicidal, sometimes depressed. But not mad, not like I was. I'm proud of every day that I was, though, because every day I survived. And I'm proud as hell now it's over.