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On: protest, the media and graffiti

This is too long for a tweet, so… Two points on Saturday’s anti-austerity protest in Whitehall.

First: accusations of a ‘media blackout’ because it wasn’t immediately picked up by the news, particularly the BBC.

*sigh* This was an impromptu demo. Which means no journalists had advance notice of it, so nobody was assigned to cover it. Put yourself in the position of the newsroom, already a bit stretched on a weekend and even more so because all the serious politics hacks have finally gone to bed after two days of covering the general election. You look at this protest and think: is it any different from all the other protests that happen around Whitehall all the time? Are there any coherent messages to report other than that people are pissed off? Will this blow over in half an hour? The answer to these is likely: wait and see.

In the end, it looks like nobody sent their own reporters down there; or, at least, not until things started kicking off. Photos from the Telegraph, Guardian, Evening Standard, Metro and BBC are all credited to Twitter or newswire agencies, which have stringers and freelancers all over the place, who rush down to any sign of any disturbance in the hope of grabbing a story. On this occasion it paid off for them. Most of the time it doesn’t and would be a waste of time sending salaried staff to stand around doing nothing. This is why stringers exist. It’s also why news organisations can be slower than Twitter to report protests.

And the protest was reported as one of the handful of stories in this morning’s 6Music news bulletin. So much for a BBC blackout.

Second: graffiti on the war memorial.

I wish this didn’t keep happening. Every time something gets smashed up or defaced at a protest, that becomes the story. Opponents jump on it to say ‘well, look at them, they’ve got no respect, why should we respect their views?’. And when it’s a war memorial… I don’t actually think all war memorials should be sacred. The Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo is a prime example: it honours some war criminals. Anything that glorifies war should be graffitied, as far as I’m concerned. But the Women of World War Two memorial doesn’t do that; it remembers the work women did during the war – primarily at home. (Also, if you have to argue that any war was a just war, fighting the Nazis is right up there.)

So I don’t automatically join the ranks of people saying ‘this is a disgrace’. What I do do, is say to whoever did that damage: you’re a pillock. You’re a pillock because the graffiti is now the story. You’ve managed to undermine the message of your demo by pandering to the worst ideas the Daily Mail reading population – and the government – already had of you. You’ve made everyone come across as children having a tantrum, rather than people who are genuinely angry at the torrent of cuts and suffering yet to come. You’re not going to change anything unless you can persuade more people over to your side. And you’re not going to do that by scrawling ‘fuck Tory scum’ on a war memorial. Grow the fuck up.

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My teacher, who liked the feel of little girls’ bottoms

First things first. Before I even start, let me make quite clear that I’m not in need of sympathy from this post. I haven’t thought of the incidents described here for years and was only reminded because I started reading this New Yorker article, which has striking similarities. Any emotional scarring was either dealt with yonks ago or replaced by other emotional bullshit. I write this simply to point out how easy it is for people in power to get away with abusing vulnerable people. And how it doesn’t just happen with the Jimmy Saviles of this world, but bloody everywhere.

When I was in third year junior school (that’s 9/10 years old), I was placed in the class of Mr D. Every pupil in the school knew that Mr D was, in our schoolyard language, a massive perv. Girls leaving his class warned those of us coming in: watch yourselves. When you went up to his desk with some work, he had a fondness for putting his arm around you, pulling you in close, and putting his hand on your arse for a good old squeeze, or rubbing his hand up and down your back (to see if we were wearing bras yet? I don’t know).

I repeat: we were 9 and 10 years old. We knew something wasn’t quite right and we knew we didn’t like it, but we had no idea what to do about it and certainly no idea that it was the kind of thing someone could possibly be arrested for. Eventually, after several months, we had a conflab and decided that if we squeezed our bum cheeks together the next time he was having a grope, really tightened them up, it would send a message. And it did. The bum groping stopped but the hugging and the rubbing carried on. So we started standing several feet away from the desk and resisting when he tried to pull us in. I think it took about six months for him to give up altogether.

We moved up a year, we warned the girls coming in. Did we think about telling another teacher? No. Why? I don’t think we realised it was something we needed to. He was a grown up, right? It was weird and horrible and pervy, but it couldn’t have been wrong. And thinking back, it was such common knowledge around the school that I’d be highly surprised if a rumour or two hadn’t reached the ears of another teacher. And it all seemed to be fine. He had two sons, older than us, who’d been at the same school. He lived in the village, a pillar of the community. It must be fine, right?

Let’s move on five years. It was lunchtime and some moron boy came up and grabbed the breasts of one of my friends. I got very angry and shoved him away. It really upset me, and it wasn’t until I got home that I thought about Mr D, started crying and told my parents. I don’t recall them getting outraged but they did call my school and speak to my head of year, Mrs B – because, you see, Mr D was a parent governor at my high school, so even my current teachers knew him. I think my parents thought Mrs B would know what to do.

The next day I had a chat with Mrs B. I don’t remember much about that either, apart from being very embarrassed and perhaps not going into much detail. I felt a bit stupid, like I was making a mountain out of a molehill. Because it must have all been fine, right? Nobody would let a man like that be in charge of 15 girls of 9 and 10 years of age. I have no idea if Mrs B did anything with the information (I should point out – as if you were in any doubt – that I was one of the most trusted pupils in my school, a responsible, swotty, spoddy kid not given to making trouble. If you’re looking for a reliable witness, I am it). But I know that Mr D continued as parent governor and, as far as I know, was still teaching at my old junior school when I left the area at 21.

I don’t know if Mr D ever went further than groping little girls through their clothes. I don’t know if that would have been enough to get him sacked (though the NSPCC seems to think so). I don’t know if any of my friends ever said anything. I didn’t tell any of them that I was talking to Mrs B. I don’t know if any of the girls he groped experienced lasting emotional problems because of what he did. I tried my best. I spoke up. Nothing happened. Once or twice since I’ve thought about trying again, but I have no idea if I’d be believed after all this time, whether anyone would care (were we raped? Were they the ‘worst kind of sexual offences‘? No? Then shut up), or whether I could actually go through a court case if it came to it.

So there you go. It really is that simple. When it comes to a trusted adult and some kids, there’s only ever going to be one winner. Either because the kids are too naive to tell anyone what happened, or because they assume it’s already known and therefore must be OK, or because when they do nobody listens anyway.

In which I confront a street harasser and it goes a bit wrong

I just waited 50 minutes for a 208 bus before giving up and coming home (whole other TfL rant), but while I was waiting at the bus stop I did something… Was it stupid? I don’t think in principle it was stupid. It just ended up being slightly unfortunate.

At around 35 minutes into my bus wait I noticed a man, maybe in his 50s, start approaching women in the street asking for a cigarette or a light or something (he already had a lit, half-smoked cigarette in his hand). And when I say ‘asking’, I mean lurching at them, getting up very close, with a look of glee that wasn’t, on closer inspection, all that gleeful but actually rather malicious. Then he approached two young women (16, 17) and freaked them out so badly that they ran off.

He ignored a bus that pulled up until he saw that a woman had got on, at which point he dived through the exit doors and started shouting at her. He was ushered off, then spotted a pretty blonde woman sitting by a window and started banging, with the full force of his forearm, on the window and didn’t stop until the bus drove off.

He didn’t approach me. I was watching him the whole time with a scowl on my face, hopefully projecting a vibe of ‘come near me sunshine and it will end badly for you’. I don’t get much street harassment; the occasional yell out of a van, something stupid mumbled on a street. I get far less since I dyed my hair purple than I did when I was blonde; it upsets me a little that the main reason I will never go blonde again (which would be far easier for me to manage, what with my rapidly greying hair) is because I don’t want to attract wankers.

The man wandered away a bit. The two young women came back. He saw them and retraced his steps, leering. Oh, that’s it, I thought. So, channeling Hollaback, I shouted:

No, get out of here before I call the police. You don’t get to harass women in the street. Go on, leave.

His face turned to pure fury. He advanced on me screaming – how dare I talk to him like that? Who the fuck did I think I was? At this point I yelled at him to go on, fuck off, get out of here.

He walked right up to me, yelling in my face

You should be grateful you’re a woman, I’m a man beater not a woman beater! If you were a man I’d fucking beat you! You don’t have the right to talk to me like that!

By this point another woman at the bus stop had come to stand next to me and was murmuring to me ‘he’s a local, I work round here, don’t worry’ and had put her arm between me and him. He stumbled off. The two young women, the woman who intervened and another woman came to check I was OK (I was fine; I’d just stood there glaring at him with my arms folded, but no idea what my face was doing. Red? White?). I felt stupid that by trying to stop other women feeling threatened I’d forced other women to come to my aid. The woman who intervened said he’s well known in that bit of Lewisham High Street and that it’s best if people just ignore him and that the police never do anything (I guess we know how she felt about my outburst) and the other woman, who works in a local school, gave me some background, including that he’s been under the care of mental health services but not any longer. The two young women said he had genuinely scared them so I feel like I did some smidgen of good if I at least got him to piss off.

I also feel a bit stupid for not recognising that this guy was clearly an alcoholic and had problems… No, actually, scratch that. I don’t care what problems he has. Ignoring him and letting him have free rein to harass and scare means that one day he could easily go too far with some poor girl who doesn’t have the nerve or the experience to run into a shop or a bus (and why should anyone have to run away to feel safe?), or maybe it’ll be at night and she’ll be too traumatised to go out again on her own. Yes, fuck it, I’d do that again; in fact, I’d have taken a smack in the face if it meant he could be arrested for assault.

Not sure how to end this post, my heart is still racing a little bit. In a good way. Hmm.

Why I should stop expecting sitcoms to be feminist

I’m very fond of How I Met Your Mother. I like the way characters are allowed to get drunk without it being a plot point. I like the way it has a normal couple in the main group. I like how it messes with linear narrative. OK, I’m not all that thrilled with the way it treats the “strippers, skanks and bimbos” Barney screws around with, but having him played by a gay man does subvert the character somewhat. As does making him a douche.

I like the way its single woman, Robin, is uncompromisingly feisty and career minded. Or, I did until the last couple of episodes. Just to catch you up, Robin Scherbatsky is a TV journalist. She wants to travel and work abroad. She’s not that bothered about having a long term relationship. And she definitely, definitely does not want kids.

In the episode before the mid season break, Robin discovers that she actually can’t have children. It was Cobie Smulders’ Emmy shot: the character has to deal with having the choice of whether or not to have kids taken away from her. There’s a lot of wandering through snow and being upset. Naturally. But then came the final voiceover line, as Robin returns home to find Ted has decked out the apartment in all its Christmas finery for her – something like, “because kids, the one thing your Aunt Robin never was, was alone”.

OH FUCK OFF. Don’t you dare take a strong female character and imply that without children, her life would be empty. That winding up alone is a distinct possibility for the childless woman. Is the childless woman not allowed to have lifelong friends? Is the childless woman not allowed to have other family? Are the children of a fertile woman guaranteed to never fall out / emigrate / do whatever else they could do to fail to fulfil their apparent destiny to make sure their mother is never ‘alone’? Is the childless woman not allowed to get married?

Hmm. Well. This last was addressed in this week’s episode. Robin’s bland [i.e., ‘nice’ in TV land] boyfriend of about six months proposes to her. She tells him she can’t have children. He still wants to marry her. Hooray! Then she explains that even though she can’t have children, she’s still choosing not to have any – which rules out adoption, surrogacy, etc. He does want children after all, so he breaks it off. OK, fine. Incompatible life plans. This is still about Robin’s choices, not her infertility. It’s quite empowering. Until the final scene where Robin, weeping, explains to Ted what’s happened, and says “he couldn’t look past it [the infertility]. Who could?”

SERIOUSLY. JUST FUCKING FUCK OFF. A moment ago this was about Robin not wanting children, now we’re back to her being doomed to a life of staring at walls because her womb will be forever empty? I find this offensive, both as someone who chooses not to have children and someone with a friend who has recently been told she’s infertile. How the hell did this show go from having a strong female character who knows what she wants from life, to this supposedly tragic figure? When Robin declared she didn’t want children, were we supposed to be thinking ‘ah, she’ll change her mind’, because everyone knows having children is what women do?

There was an opportunity here to show the shock, internal conflict and coming to terms with being told you’re infertile, which they did quite nicely. Shame it was undone by falling back on ‘she can’t have children OH NO HER LIFE IS RUINED’.

(I’ve spoilered myself about the ending to this series, and I know that the producers aren’t planning for Robin to end up alone. That being the case – some more enlightened dialogue, please, for pity’s sake.)

(Also: this series hasn’t been very good in general. I’m starting to hope Ted meets the mother soon, and puts the show out of its misery.)

Cookies

I don’t know. Something about cookies. This template may well use them to track visits. If that bothers you, you should probably turn them off.

And thus ends what will probably be the only post here for another two months. (Customary whine: I’m really really busy. If you miss me – though god knows why you would – you can find me at Londonist. A lot.)

Women are funny

You’ve probably not heard of Newsjack. It’s squirrelled away on Radio 4 Extra (yes, that’s a thing) and is a topical comedy news show. But there’s one difference – it has an open door policy for writers. That means anyone can submit sketches or quick jokes. Anyone. I’d vaguely heard about it because I follow a few comedy writers on Twitter and some people I vaguely know, know the people who work on it. But in the wake of Chortle managing to only nominate two women for their annual awards, @funnywomen retweeted something Newsjack said.

Only around a tenth of submissions for the first episode came from women? Well, there’s only one way to actively make a difference to that. So I submitted four jokes.

And one got aired.

If you really, really want to hear it, it’s on iPlayer til something like next Sunday, comes within the first couple of minutes and is the one about the horse*. It earned me £18.

This post isn’t about me bigging up how brilliant I am – though, clearly, I am sodding amazing and will be writing the autocue bits on HIGNFY by Christmas – it’s about funny women. Because there are tons of them/us. I can kind of understand why there are fewer female standups but women comedy writers? That’s sitting in a room – or, in my case, hanging up the washing when I started giggling (laughing at your own jokes=not cool) – writing some stuff down and emailing it off. Half my timeline on Twitter is people making jokes about stuff in the news. Many of them are women. I suspect fewer women have the ego to think ‘hmm, I wonder if these gags could make me £18? I’ll just have an investigate and see if there’s anywhere I could send it’, or pay attention when they see something like Newsjack mentioned. I certainly didn’t pay attention until my feminist hackles were raised. Me? Write for a comedy show? That’s ludicrous. But apparently not.

And jeez, if I can do it…

* “Somewhere an annoyed [police] officer is shouting ‘no, the journalist was offering YOU a pony’.”

Hither Green community notice

There were tweets last night. There are often tweets at night, of varying degrees of sobriety, but since these particular tweets were about a potential crime I figured I should write up the whole thing in case anyone else has had something similar happen / has something similar happen.

Twice, in the last week, my doorbell has gone late at night. I have bad-temperedly stumped to the front door, but through the glass panels I could see nobody standing outside. So I called out, in my best imperious voice, “hello? Can I help you?”.

At this point, a white guy in his mid twenties, middling height with (and this only definitely applies to the incident last night, didn’t pay too much attention the first time) short brown hair brushed forward, has appeared and said “sorry, I’ve got the wrong flat love” and cleared off.

Maybe he has got the wrong flat. Maybe they are two different men confusing my flat for someone else’s in the same week. Maybe a dealer who’s bad at giving directions has just moved into my street. Or maybe this guy is checking whether I’m home before he burgles the place, or hoping I’ll open the door (which I never, ever do unless I know who’s outside) for easier robbery access or – and this horrific story of what happened to Rachel North London is the basic reason why I never, ever open my front door unless I know who it is – rape.

I can’t remember precisely when this happened the first time, but last night it was only a few minutes after I’d got home. On neither occasion have they/he tried my upstairs neighbour. Am I being targeted? Has anyone else experienced anything similar? I’d love to know. I live on the Hither Green Lane side of Hither Green, in the Co-op area.

Anyway, I reported it to the police; there was a 20 minute delay while I tried to get through to the Lewisham Central Safer Neighbourhoods Team (not exactly an emergency, is it?) and didn’t recognise the beeping on my mobile as a number currently out of service (nice work, SNT). The police did a sweep of the area a number of times and called back to fill me in. They saw nobody fitting the description. If this has happened to you, or it happens to you, please report it. I can give you my reference number so it’s easier for the police to tie the cases together. And for god’s sake, don’t open your door at night.

/Community notice

Overheard while waiting for a bus on Lewisham High Street

“You know sometimes, when I’ve done a lot of coke, prawn cocktail and ready salted crisps really burn my mouth.”