Seeing the system

The verdict was finally returned on the Ian Tomlinson inquest, with unexpected speed. As many have been saying for the last two years, Tomlinson was killed by a baton blow and shove from PC Simon Harwood. Immediately, Twitter exploded. The hashtag #PCSimonHarwoodIsAThug began to trend.

It was not until much later that people began to point out that the problem is much deeper than that.

Harwood’s behaviour was not an example of a rogue thug, behaving in a way that is at odds with policing. The only difference is that Harwood actually killed someone, rather than doling out a maiming or bruises and psychological trauma.

It is easier to follow the view that Harwood is a thug, rather than seeing the problem is systemic. It is always easier to see a problem as a personal choice rather than a broken system. This is called the just-world effect.

I had my ‘feminist click moment‘ relatively recently; it has been less than two years since I took the red pill and began to understand, fully, that I inhabited a system which was fundamentally skewed against me as a woman. Less than one year ago, my understanding of injustice broadened as I became politically active. I saw it everywhere. What had once been a vague noise, largely beneath my perception, had exploded into a scream.

The system is fucked. I could no longer ignore it. Personal choices meant very little. The system is fucked.

At the back of my mind, the cognitive shortcut I had used still splutters, ‘but, but, but…’

Its argument means nothing to me.

It is hard to suddenly see ourselves as figures playing a rigged game, that it is not a problem of bad individuals, but a fundamentally broken system. It feels like suddenly there is a fight that cannot be won.

Consider the Tomlinson verdict: it took almost two years for a jury to rule that he was unlawfully killed. The video evidence of the attack has been present for all of that time. It was only due to immense public pressure that the inquest happened at all.

It helped that Tomlinson was an ideal victim. One cynically wonders whether the charges against Alfie Meadows, another victim of police brutality are a pre-emptive attempt at avoiding another inquest into unjustifiable violence.

There are two systems that are visible to me at work in the Tomlinson case. There is the immediate, the police culture of covering up their actions. Then there is the broader culture of placing blind trust in institutions, of victim-blaming, of discomfort with political protest.

There may be more systems. I cannot see the whole picture, none of us can. My brain is a product of its environment and its biology; it will not let me see everything.

PC Simon Harwood is a thug. He does not exist in a vacuum. He is a product of a system, as is everything that came after he attacked a man selling newspapers.

To fight injustice–be it police brutality, be it oppression based on gender, race, or any other factors, be it a broken state–we need to see the system. It is a battle, but it is a battle worth fighting.

Destruction and rebirth

Three years ago today, my destruction began. Nothing lasts forever.

Once upon a time, I was in a very long, monogamous relationship with a man. Including the agonising death throes, the relationship lasted a hair under five years.

Three years ago today, the death throes began.

I knew exactly what was happening, that the comfortable, happy reality I had inhabited for much of my life was falling apart around me. He was cheating on me; I knew with whom, I knew when it had began. I am not the most perceptive person, but this was blindingly obvious to me.

I decided not to rock the boat. I did not want a confrontation, then. I was afraid to let go and shake up everything that I knew.

For two months, I stayed in that relationship, insisting to all and sundry that it was just a rough patch.

I knew it was not a rough patch. I was afraid to let go. I still believed us to have a future.

It occupied my thoughts perpetually, the fear of change, the knowledge that I was all of a sudden cast off and thoroughly unwanted, unloved. I cried a lot.

He was miserable, too. He was afraid to let go.

It was never the cheating that bothered me. It was the lying, the sudden gulf that had opened up between us.

In the end, I had to know. It had turned to an obsession. I broke the last taboo of being a trusting lover and looked at his phone. I felt awful for that. It’s just not the done thing, is it? It’s what bonkers bunny boilers do, isn’t it?

So I finally confronted, by email.

I walked around all day with a weight sitting on my chest, frantically checking my emails for a reply.

I was afraid to let go. I fervently hoped I was wrong. Perhaps I would receive an email which told me I was wrong and featured a marriage proposal? Or what if I’d completely fucked everything by my confession of Going Through A Mobile Phone? Shit. I could have ruined it all by my refusal to trust.

None of this happened.

I had been right with my suspicions all along. We agreed to “a break”.

I insisted on a break, rather than a break-up.

I knew all hope was gone.

The mourning began in earnest.

I spent the best part of two months in my dressing gown, alternating between tears and numbness. My ashtray looked like a tar-stained porcupine. All the while, a vast knot of wretchedness wrapped itself around my guts. My body ate itself.

We were not even friends any more, me and him. The link was severed. We attended one last festival together and I have not seen him since.

The universe is riddled with cycles of destruction and rebirth. Stars bloat up and explode, spewing their innards out to create new stars, planets, life. Fleetingly-sentient blobs of matter die, and become new parts of life; maybe some blobs of their matter become sentient, too.

Having eaten my body, phase two began. I was an unethical slut.

I made sure I never fucked anyone I liked.

I had some blindingly good sex during that phase. I was still unhappy, albeit getting lucky.

It was a nebula; my new self was coalescing. I was disillusioned with monogamy; I just had not quite learned how to have functional, happy connections with other human beings.

I was a spinning mass. The star at the centre had not yet ignited.

When it did, it was not the dramatic, sudden explosion of illumination. It grew slowly; a phoenix egg incubating in smouldering ashes.

My reality, what I had accepted to be real, had been torn away. I reshaped my reality.

I am unfamiliar, now, with the woman who cried and held on. I see her as weak, even though she was not. She was working with the options that she had available.

I feel intense sympathy for people who have experienced being cheated on. It seems alien, though, that I was one of them.

Yet I am still that woman who wept and ate herself. I am still the woman who would not let go. It is all the same materials, just as we are all made of the remains of an exploded star. It is reconstituted into something different, yet it is all the same molecules.

Destruction and rebirth. I am grateful for it.


Nicholas Shaxon, in his fantastic book Treasure Islands, calls the City of London the centre of a spider’s web.

I call the it Mordor.

The Square Mile is, to me, the heart of darkness, the epicentre of evil, the source of a great deal of the evil in the world. It represents greed, usury, capitalism. It represents financial crises and cosy cuddles with Conservatives.

Mordor has always been fitting.

Until a few weeks ago, I had not in adult life set foot in Mordor, save to change Tube at Bank. I have now been there twice.

One visit was for protest purposes; the other a quest for food, intoxicated.

Dragons guard the City. As I passed the heraldries, a deep sense of unease settled in. The air felt thicker, somehow; my body heavier.

Perhaps I was thinking too much of Mordor.

I was Samwise the brave. I pressed on.

When I visited to protest, megaphone courage lessened the disquiet.

Nothing feels real in the City.

I ate with friends in a place that was indistinguishable from a stage set. A shop named THE PEN SHOP squatted opposite us. It did not appear to sell pens. We were indoors but outdoors, an arcade made to resemble a street. A staircase led to nowhere. A simulacrum of a pub bustled with identically-suited patrons, murmuring and guffawing rhythmically. A jogger ran past. She was indoors but outdoors.

The people in the City do not feel human.

There is a sense of hostility; that they would look at a group clad in Doc Martens and bobbly woolly tights and know that Something Was Afoot.

One friend, a man, spoke of a time he walked through the City dressed in a suit. There was a sharp contrast to travelling in his usual attire; each City-working man he passed squared up to him in a show of dominance.

In casual clothes, we faced quiet malevolence. It never rose beyond this, even when causing a spectacle with a megaphone and banner.

All the while, I worried we would be Noticed, that Something Would Happen. It never did. Muted threat. Perhaps they are still too English to make a scene.

Passing out of the City once again, I exhaled, long and hard.

Like Samwise and Frodo, I am glad to tell the story of my adventures in Mordor.

I do not wish to return.

Why I’m marching tomorrow

Tomorrow, 26th March 2011, up to a million people will take to the streets and march against the government’s ideological austerity measures, raising awareness that there is an alternative: taxation and promotion of new jobs and green growth. I will be one of these people.

I will be marching for the future generations of children who will not receive the same opportunities in life that I did. They will face crippling debt of up to £40000 if they decide to go to university like I did. Those from poorer backgrounds may not even be able to do their A Levels.

I will be marching for women, who are disproportionately affected by the cuts. My sisters will be more likely to lose their jobs in the public sector. They will lose numerous benefits relating to childcare. They will be unable to leave abusive relationships; marriage or poverty. Pension reforms mean many women will spend their retirement in poverty.

I will be marching for all of the valued public sector workers who face losing their jobs due to the cuts. These people provide us with things that we need–security, advice, care–for what is often a very small salary. They will lose their jobs as the government has chosen to look after their rich private sector friends instead.

I will be marching for all of the people with disabilities who face heartbreaking cuts to the support they need. Many will lose living support, transport support, mobility support, the roof over their heads, their very independence. They will lose everything which allows them to live a life of dignity, ostensibly to save a few quid.

I will be marching for the people who might, possibly get ill at some point in their lives. Our government is will restructure our precious NHS, allowing vast swathes of basic care to be outsourced to their rich private sector friends. All the while, up to 50000 NHS workers–doctors, nurses, midwives–will lose their jobs.

I will be marching because I am outraged by our government’s complete lack of thought for their fellow human beings. I will be marching for my own future, and the future of others.

These cuts will affect me. These cuts will affect you.

See you on the streets.


A day in the life of a radical feminist lesbian separatist

This post follows 24 hours of viewing the world through my feminist lens, and the things I noticed that others may not notice.

I saw in International Women’s Day furious. I had tried to explain to a person on Twitter that perhaps they needed to re-examine their privilege and that they had used the word “slutty” in an offensive context. The person dismissed all of these concerns, all the while insisting that they were feminist and knew better. A friend of mine blocked the person over that as she was so upset and frustrated by the flagrant privilege denial and complete dismissal. Shortly after midnight, the person tweeted the following:

International Women’s Day coincides with Pancake Day. I think this means women are pancakes but I might have got confused.

How very feminist, minimising International Women’s Day. I replied to that effect. I got a sarcastic reply. I considered blocking the person, too, but decided instead that I will call them on their bullshit where I see it in the hope that one day they might just get a clue.

I woke up to glorious sunshine and beautiful messages of solidarity celebrating women all over Twitter. For just one glorious moment I felt as though perhaps there were finally enough people on our side to win this fight.

Then I read this. In short, the UK is attempting to water down legislation defining violence against women as a violation of human rights.  The anger prickled. How is violation of the rights of a human not violation of the rights of a human? Are women less than human?

After lunch (mortadella, mozarella and artichoke ciabatta, delicious) I was heartened again. Today has been a good day for feminist writing. As tweeter MediocreDave put it:

I am having a lovely afternoon sitting by a sun-lit window and reading feminist blogs. Can we have #IWD more often, please? 🙂


If only every day were about celebrating people.

While doing all of this, I was, of course, working. I work in one of the few areas of science that lacks the stark gender gradient: I work in psychology. My main supervisor is a woman, a brilliant woman. My office is teeming with smart, brilliant women. There is none of the age-old problem of “but women can’t analyse” here. We all deal in advanced statistics, and our genders are irrelevant. I am writing a paper. Four of the five authors are women. The stark gender gradient is hardly here at all. The sun streams through the window of my office, and I am happy to be here.

Another reason I like my office: we’re discussing female genital mutilation right now, and the politics of pubic hair, and bodily autonomy. At least two of my office-mates are feminists; the rest probably are but don’t know it yet.

It was a beautiful, glorious afternoon until I saw the news about Tahrir Square. Our Egyptian sisters marched to make themselves visible, to be included in deciding on the future of their country. They were greeted with thugs telling them that this was not an option. This reaction to women wishing to determine their own lives is global, it is entrenched. Where I see it, it is usually tweets or blog comments. The sarcastic “make me a cup of tea, love”; the furious “you’re wrong” with no elaboration; the feeble attempt to justify something which to me seems completely unjustifiable. In Egypt, it is bigger, it is more overt. It is all part of the same problem; and it strengthens my resolve to fight this wherever I see it.

I check Facebook periodically. Old school friends, barely remembered faces from the past comment on statuses relating to International Women’s Day with their hilariously ironic assertions that women should make sandwiches and react defensively when it is pointed out that this is not good form. Targeted ads, spotting my age and gender, try to sell me manicures and brazilian waxes. I prefer Twitter. Since I became a feminist, I’ve liked Facebook a lot less.

Today has been my first day of blogging, and my introduction to feminist blogging is much as I’d imagine. I have faced the kind of comments I expected: a mix of gratifying and head-smashingly frustrating. I talk to people about my experience. Those who see through the feminist lens understand perfectly. Those who do not, do not discuss the issue. To me, feminism is like a community of people who see the world in a similar way. We can come from anywhere, we can be any gender, any race. We see things that others don’t. We react differently.

Of course, we are not a homogenous of seething anti-patriarchy ire. We simply see what others cannot or will not.

For the evening, I fuck. It is good. I do not think of the politics surrounding sex: gendered power differences, consent, and on and on; I am too busy fucking.

So ends a day in the life of someone who has once been termed a radical feminist lesbian separatist. It was not a typical day. No day is truly typical.

That was my International Women’s Day.