Why The F-Word is NOT a Dirty Word

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“Feminist: A person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Feminism is a difficult word to say. It gets stuck in my mouth like some great big gobstopper because I’m afraid of what might happen if I spit it out. It is a loaded word with a complicated history, and a word, that for some reason, really seems to get people’s backs up.

In a recent interview with The Huffington Post  – following on from her brilliant TEDx talk – Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie (my favourite female author) refers to the word as having “baggage” and urges young people to set aside preconceived notions of what it is to be feminist:

“The word itself comes with such bad baggage. You’ll have women who if you listed out major ideas of gender equality, they would agree with them, but then if you said, “are you a feminist?,” they’d say “no.” That’s one of the reasons I wanted to use the word feminism. [I wanted to] talk to young people, and say, “forget the history of the word and the baggage it carries, and think about the idea of it.”

I am a feminist – there, I said it – and I don’t think any quote sums up my opinion greater than this gem from the wonderful Ellen Page, “I call myself a feminist when people ask me if I am, and of course I am ’cause its about equality.

Equality – because that’s what it all boils down to. Not a mission to be “better than” or “to exceed” or “control.” It is simply a desire – and a right – to be viewed as equals.

Throughout my teens and early twenties, I struggled with how I felt about the F-Word and its place in my life. I wanted to be independent but I also really wanted to fit in.

If I think back to this time, I’m surprised by the inequality that permeated my young-adulthood (and that – rather depressingly – still affects my adulthood). There are times when I have felt uncomfortable being a woman, or frowned upon for not behaving or looking a certain way.

From being branded “fat” for being a little curvier than the other girls at school, having some men behave towards me in a sexually aggressive manner (I also know plenty of men who will give similar stories of the women they’ve been approached by), being told to “tone myself down” in order to “get a man” as if I’m a too-strong glass of whiskey that needs diluting in order to be palatable, or simply the fact that I am not being paid the same amount as my male colleagues.

All these things begin to add up and I worry for the young generation of today. They have to explore these issues in an amplified environment. The internet, for example, brings with it a shit storm of vile images and opinions that seek to degrade both sexes – revenge-porn websites, trolling, unregulated chat rooms, the bloody side-bar thingy on The Daily Mail website – its corrosive.

I had so many questions at that young age, and, to some extent, I still do:

Am I a feminist? Can you be too much of a feminist? Can I say I’m a feminist and not engage in activism? What is activism? Oh, OK so I am an activist then? No, wait. I’m not? How come? How can other women say they are a feminist and call out other women like they do? And what about the men? Where do they fit into it all? How do they feel?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think men are the sole perpetrators of inequality. Sexism isn’t just about male attitudes and male problems – its a societal thing, a problem that transcends gender, because, lets face it, men get a hard time too.

Remember the last time a girl lamented that the really great guy she just met wasn’t “manly” enough for her? What’s all that about? What does it even mean to be “manly”? Where has this idea come from? Who decided it? And, for that matter, what does it mean to be feminine?

Its a bloody minefield – no wonder we’re all left scratching their heads in confusion.

On one hand, we’re told to be strong women and make up our own minds (I can’t help but sing Can’t Hold Us Down, by Christina Aguilera in my noggin when I type this) but on the other, we’re bombarded with  newspapers and magazine images portraying what ideal ‘femininity’ should look like (FYI. It doesn’t exist).

And men? They need to be tough, yet sensitive, with the six-pack of an Adonis. They must always be in control for fear of being henpecked or, to borrow a modern phrase, “pussy-whipped.” They must not show a hint of weakness.

Who are we supposed to be? And why are we supposed to be anything other than who we are?

“It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals.”

Emma Watson

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As I enter my late twenties, “feminist” has become a popular word, literally flashing in great, bold lights. Even if you’re not a loyal subject of Queen Bey, its pretty hard to miss her stance on feminism at this year’s VMAs. It probably cost a small fortune to light up.

No matter what you think of her music – or incredible PR skills – you’ve got to respect the woman. In a sea of bubble-gum pop-princesses, she’s a beacon of light. A mother, a businesswoman, a wife – she did not have to choose.

As Time Magazine put it, “As far as feminist endorsements are concerned, this was the holy grail: A word with a complicated history reclaimed by the most powerful celebrity in the world. And then she projected it — along with its definition, by the Nigerian feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — into [our] homes.”

…and all over Twitter – with fabulous women folk behind things like Everyday Sexism, No More Page 3, The Vagenda, and For Books’ Sake bringing up these issues and putting them into the forefront of everyone’s mind. Not to mention all the wonderful men getting on board.

If we can only get over our hatred for the word “feminism,” you’ll see that stuff is pretty exciting right now.  Despite what the naysayers believe, attitudes are changing.

Take this week for example. I don’t think I’ve ever been so moved or excited by a celebrity giving a speech for such a long time – Or ever, really – then along came the fabulous Emma Watson.

Her talk came as she launched a new UN campaign called “HeForShe”, which aims to enlist the support of as many men as possible to help achieve equality between the sexes.

“I was appointed six months ago and the more I have spoken about feminism the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.

“For the record, feminism by definition is: ‘The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.’”

She continued that gender equality has not yet been reached in any country, and it never will be so long as “only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation”, going on to note prejudices that come with being a man.

“Men – I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation,” she said. “Gender equality is your issue too.

“Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society despite my needing his presence as a child as much as my mother’s.

“I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less ‘macho’ — in fact in the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49; eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either.”

Unsurprisingly, she’s been targeted by trolls since giving this speech and threatened with the leak of fake ‘nude’ pictures. Rather sickeningly, a website called ‘Emma Watson You’re Next’ – depicting a countdown of when the actress will be ‘targeted’ – has popped up online. Its disgusting to think that, in this day an age, a woman’s body and sexuality are still being used against them.

So what exactly is it that I’m trying to say?

I suppose I’m saying that gender equality is just that – equality between the genders.

Women can be pro-sex and anti-porn, women should not be seen as ‘uptight’ when they rebuff unwelcome advances or not respond well to cat-calls (I don’t really like anyone to shout at me in the street, tbh), or be branded a slut when they do.

Men can be supportive of women and not be chastised for it. Men can be sensitive. Or not. Men should not be vilified for campaigning to have more rights as fathers.

Whatever. Its all fine.

I’m completely with Emma Watson. I agree with every wonderful word she says.

If we care about feminism and equality, its time that all of us – men and women – got involved and spoke up, and what better way to do so than supporting this campaign?

I am supporting this because I don’t want my own (hypothetical) children – or my niece and nephew – to grow up in a world that thinks its OK to put people in boxes.

I don’t want them to call out women and men for not conforming to stereotypes of gender and sexuality.

Call me naïve, but I want them to grow up being whoever the fuck they want to be thankyouverymuch, and not have to worry about the way they dress or act or for having thoughts and opinions and interests outside what is deemed acceptable for their sex.

I want boys to grow up with respect for women, and – just as equally – I want girls to have respect for men.

Writing: ‘Cause this is Filler, Filler, right?

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“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

– Stephen King

I’m approaching the 50,000 word mark this evening.

After chapter Twenty-Four, I’m on the home stretch. The first draft is very nearly, almost, possibly nearing completion. PHEW! 20,000 more words maximum which seems infinitely more do-able than when I first began this bad boy a few years ago. There is light at the end of the tunnel after all.

Then comes the hard bit, right? Weeding out the Filler. The stuff you hear yourself saying in your head as you’re writing, and you know its a) unnecessary b) flowery or c) god-awful, but your fingers keep tapping away at the keyboard anyway.

But what if you find yourself attached to the Filler? What if you, like me, find it kind of hard to get brutal with the red pen or delete button? I have the fear of The Edit.

How do we identify the bumf? When you’re so close to your characters, you start viewing their every waking thought as important, no matter how banal or removed from the plot it might be.

I’ve just spent a couple of hours typing the below chapter because it popped into my noggin. I’m not sure it will survive the Red Pen Fest because its not integral to the story and, if I am completely honest, most of my chapters contain more waffle than an IHOP.

Anyone else find it difficult to approach the editing process? Do you continue writing the story before you edit, like me, or do you automatically delete something you think might not survive the cut?

 

A couple of days pass and we just spend all our time like this. We stay at The Angel because it’s cheap but we both hate it. I don’t like the way people look at me there, eyes lingering for a little too long. Stan, the receptionist who works the night shift and signed us in the first day, creeps me out the most. He’s always lurking, in the corridors, at the bottom of the staircase, hanging out near the lobby vending machine so I have to talk to him when we go to get snacks. He licks his lips too much, dead slowly like a dog waiting for dinner. Kyle doesn’t let me go down to the lobby on my own.

We just go in and out of the hotel, walk the streets. We seem to just exist between the hours of sleep.

Kyle persuaded me to chuck my phone because they can trace us through the number. He’s been getting a bit weird about being tracked and I get the feeling that he wants us to just disappear. He talks about it all the time – he says it jokingly – but he gets this look. He keeps asking about Gran’s journal but it’s a mess, just jumbled words and sentences. It’s like she’s written down as she says it in her head, half-remembered somethings, almost-memories. I’ve read it through twice but nothing stands out. Kyle’s getting a bit impatient and every time I ask him what’s wrong he says he is fine but we’ve already decided to move to a different motel after tonight, you know, because we can’t stay in one place for too long.

‘We’re runaways,’ Kyle said. ‘We’re supposed to keep running away.’

I didn’t know how to tell him I wasn’t a run-away and that I don’t want to be one. That I’d always intended to go back to my family. That I was hopefully running towards something, not away from it. So I just stayed quiet.

 

Do you ever just listen to the rain? Just sit back and listen, watch as it falls at that weird jaunty angle? Just feel it seep into your clothes, your hair, and your skin? Rain makes a great sound on concrete but I can’t describe it, there isn’t a good-enough word.

We’re sitting in one of the bus shelters in Piccadilly Gardens, hoods up, bags on the floor. Spike is wedged in between the two of us, sulking and swinging his feet back so forcefully that we have to grip the bench as he rocks. The weather has been crap since we left The Angel this morning, so we’d had to try and get a coat on Spike but the only way was to pin him down and shove it over his head already zipped up and I think we might have been a bit rough.

‘Batman doesn’t wear a coat,’ he’d snarled through the waterproof fabric as Kyle manoeuvred Spike about inside so it fit properly.

‘Well, Manchester Batman does,’ Kyle replied. ‘Its pissing it down.’

We’ve been sat here for a bit, watching people dash about, trying to keep out the rain. A couple of girls run across the road and into the path of a bus. The bus stops in time and the driver sounds its horn really loudly.

‘Idiots,’ he shouts after the girls but they’re already off, heading in the direction of the awning over the entrance to a Tesco Express, oblivious to the fact that a bus nearly ploughed them down like a steam roller. I watch them shake off their hoods and umbrellas, and take their place in the row of shoppers seeking refuge from the bad weather.

‘This is fucking miserable,’ Kyle moans, whipping back his hood.

‘Ammmmmmm…you said F,’ Spike says in that horrible bratty way kids do when you’ve pissed them off. ‘I’m telling Dad.’

‘Go ahead,’ Kyle says. ‘But I think it will be a while before you see him.’

‘I WANT DAD.’ Spike is verging on hysterial.

‘Well he’s not here,’ Kyle shouts back.

Spike shoots to his feet and starts stomping around. ‘I WANT MY DAD. I WANT MY DAD.’ He grabs hold of the Perspex bus shelter and starts rattling it. ‘WHERE IS MY DAD?’

Kyle just makes this dismissive sound and turns away. ‘He’s where he always is, Spike. Work.’

I don’t know what to do so I just look over at the people under the Tesco canopy and see that they’re staring at us, the two girls point and say something to each other.

‘Why did you say that to him?’ I snap at Kyle. ‘Everyone is watching.’

Kyle just shrugs, pulls up his hood and crosses his arms.

‘He’s just a little boy,’ I say.

‘Well he needs to toughen up.’

‘He’s six years old,’ I say, my body jerking forward with the movement of Spike’s fists battering the shelter. I’m worried he’s going to break it.

‘Yeah, well. The sooner he learns the better.’

‘He’s just a kid. How can you be so harsh?’

‘Maybe it’s what he needs,’ Kyle says, bitterly.  He turns and stares at me, looks me dead in the eyes and shouts, ‘Maybe he needs someone to get him to toughen the fuck up and then he won’t be surprised.’

I move a little away from him because I don’t like the tone in his voice or the way that he’s looking at me, like he’s not really seeing me, and his eyes are all wide and red like he’s been crying a bit.

‘Maybe then he won’t be pulled to fucking pieces when shit happens because he’ll already be tough enough. Someone would have taught him how things really are. What really happens to kids like us.’

I try to think of other stuff to say. I want to ask him what he means but my mouth just kind of moves open and shut again. The words won’t come out. Instead I go round the back of the bus shelter and pick Spike up. He’s really heavy and flails about like a fish on the end of a line but I eventually manage to get him to sit on my knee and stop kicking.

‘That’s better, isn’t it?’ I say in this weird voice that comes from nowhere. Kyle turns and gives me a filthy look. ‘What now?’ I say.

‘Since when did you start babying him?’

‘Since you started being such a dick,’ I snap.

 

‘I’m sorry,’ Kyle says.

It’s a little while later and Spike and I are playing around with some toys in a shop who’s name I have already forgotten.

‘Whatever,’ I say and move along to the next shelf, pick something up and pretend to look at it. I’m still mad at him; my insides feel all knotted and whirling. I watch him out the corner of my eye, watch him kneel down next to Spike and say he’s sorry. Spike turns away at first and pouts, continues to bang a little wooden drum with a plastic T-Rex.

‘I’m a massive jerk,’ Kyle says. ‘I’m sorry I shouted at you, mate.’

‘You’re a poo-poo head,’ Spike says, discarding the T-Rex and selecting a Stegosaurus as his next victim.

‘A giant poo-poo head,’ Kyle agrees. ‘A giant poo-poo head with a load of rabbit droppings and cat wee-wee on top.’

Spike laughs at the mention of wee-wee and I realise I’ve lost him as my ally. They’ve done this before, the two of them. Fallen out and made up over and over again. Kyle tickles Spike and Spike giggles, stops bashing the dinosaur and clutches it tenderly to his chest.

‘You want that, mate?’

Spike nods and smiles, but not too much, and gives it just enough of the puppy-eyes to make Kyle feel bad. ‘I like them both,’ he says. ‘They’re my only friends now.’

Kyle eats it all up, looks really sad. ‘Then both you shall have,’ he exclaims and Spike starts laughing really loudly. He looks back at me and smiles and I realise we’ve all been conned.

‘Don’t you think this one looks a bit like Andy?’ Kyle says, holding up the T-Rex which makes Spike burst into another raucous bout of laughter.

We were never allies. I was a pawn in his game. The kid is good. I’ve got to give him that.

I just shoot them both a look. ‘Traitor,’ I say to Spike but he doesn’t seem to understand because he just wonders off up the aisle and starts playing with a stuffed Koala.  No doubt he’s casing the joint for further swag.

‘Do you want me to buy you a present too?’ Kyle pouts and moves towards me, holding the plastic dinosaurs out in front of him and making them move as though they’re flying. He stops right in front of me and makes the Stegosaurs neigh like a horse.

‘Very accurate,’ I say.

‘Just call me David Attenborough,’ he says and leans his back against the shelf, turning to try his sad look on me.

‘Don’t do that!’ I screech. ‘You’re as bad as that little liar down there.’

‘Our eyes are your kryptonite.’

‘You’re such a pratt.’ I can’t help it; I feel the edges of my mouth twitch into a smile.

‘Come on,’ Kyle says, taking hold of my hand. ‘I’ve got an idea.’