2018 – The Year of Women? (it’s OK we’ve only been waiting for millennia)

If all facets of the media are to be believed, 2018 is set to be the Year of Women. The ‘we’re not poking up with this crap any longer’ movement has been turbo charged by the crowning of Donald Trump, who is unquestionably the greatest thing that has ever happened to feminism. Now an array of toad-like males in positions of power are being exposed for everything from rape to donning a white bathrobe and asking for a massage. The only people who are surprised by the ubiquity of any of this are most men.

For some, the whole sorry mess presents a different kind of tragedy for gender relations. Who doesn’t love watching poor, beleaguered Dave from Basildon bemoan the fact that a bloke can’t pay a woman a compliment anymore without someone calling the police?  I mean it’s ridiculous. What’s the world coming to?  If things continue like this it might significantly alter the dynamics between men and women forever and the current status quo is so convenient.

But Dave, we shout.  You can pay us as many compliments as you like!  Yes you can!  Pile them on.  Lay’em on with a trowel.  The only teeny weeny difference is in return WE OWE YOU ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.  We might say thank you if we’re feeling polite, but we don’t have to be grateful, flatter your ego, agree to spend time with you or perform any favour on the sexual spectrum.  Is that OK, hon?

For those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s, we find ourselves on fairly familiar turf.  The recent sabre rattling is like Jim Davidson’s nodded off in front of Grandstand for a few decades and is gobbing off because it’s 6 o’clock and his tea should be on the table.  When I was growing up we were surrounded by this kind of mentality and there was nothing subtle about it.  It was blatant on the television, in the newspapers, walking down the street and in every other place, that you were up for grabs.

Becoming a beautiful young woman and coming of age should be a free-flowing, pleasurable experience, right?  Wrong. What it is instead is a deeply uncomfortable and rather brutal awakening where you realise the attention you’re going to get is rarely the type you dreamt about.  It’s nearly always the unwanted variety, emanating from a reptilian older man who thinks that he’s entitled and you’re responsible.  And the biggest kicker in this whole grubby scenario is that everyone around you is reinforcing the idea you have to put up and shut up.

Abandoning the put up and shut up mentality, not just on the subject of unwanted sexual attention, but on everything from equal pay to who’s doing the hoovering, is going to take some gumption. After all, standing up and being counted is terribly unfeminine. Someone might accuse you of being a bloody difficult woman or unlovable or a shrew.

In my opinion, New Year’s Resolutions are for people who are amateurs at life.  However, here are a few aspirations for the female cause in 2018:

  • Mansplaining gets an on the spot mandatory fine. Repeat offenders are sent to the Mary Beard Correctional Centre because you don’t know everything and we are tired of being patronised.
  • Harvey Weinstein is crowbarred out of his sex addict spa (he just wants to wear a bath robe) and forced to work as a runner on an all-female movie franchise that has three sequels. He’ll probably have to do it in a gimp suit because that’s only fair.
  • So-called Liberal men who say things like ‘Hilary Clinton was a bit past it’ do an entire summer on the strip at Magaluf with Dave from Basildon and all his mates. They might own a bread maker, but this is really their tribe.
  • Women everywhere stop signing the invisible contract that says they’ll do an unfair share of the domestic labour and always put themselves and their needs last when no one else in the family has to. You know this is unacceptable horseshit, so why are you still doing it?

Sisters (and brothers), it’s time to start roaring.

The F Word

Image by Frank Horvat

Image by Frank Horvat

Google the words Spare Rib and, amongst the barbecue recipes, you’ll find details of an iconic feminist publication that’s about to be taken out of mothballs.  The online magazine, promising ‘life, not lifestyle’ is set to be the antidote to the vacuous pout of Grazia and at its helm will be Charlotte Raven, the disaffected journalist  forever saddled with the unfortunate moniker of being Julie Birchill’s lesbian lover.

The first edition of Spare Rib came out in June 1972 when On the Buses was considered entertainment and I was just a twinkle in my mother’s womb.   Founded by Rosie Boycott and Marsha Rowe, the publication was banned for sale in WH Smiths and caused no end of furore for its frank sexual content and uncompromising attitude to gender politics. So shocked were the establishment that Rowe herself received a letter from the Home Office requesting that she left the country forthwith.  These days you need to be Abu Qatada to get mail this radical.

The Spare Rib launch party will feature ‘costumed penitents’ (among them the ubiquitous George Galloway), serving up cocktails and performing pointless and repetitive tasks, like sweeping up and worrying about work/life balance.  This ‘turning of the patriarchal tables’ is a one night only, high energy event which, we’re told, will finally bury the myth that feminists can’t dance.  Whatever the Third Wave of Feminism might be, it isn’t niche and it definitely doesn’t do lentils.

But do we really need Spare Rib?  We’re not Afghanistan, or Saudi Arabia.  We can drive cars and ride bicycles, vote and be educated.  We can walk around unchaperoned without the need to wear a shroud as if we are the living dead.   Doesn’t it all feel a bit angry, now we have equality?  After all, women, if they have the courage and tenacity, now have as many choices as men and can live exactly as they choose without fear of ridicule or reprisal.

You wouldn’t think so if you followed @EverydaySexism on Twitter.  The Everyday Sexism project was set up to ‘catalogue instances of sexism experienced by women on a day to day basis’.  Anyone who has been subjected to discrimination at work or found themselves on the receiving end of the kind of unsavoury remark that made them want to go home and exfoliate – yes, that’s you, Ms Female with a Pulse – you are encouraged to tweet your tawdry experiences here.  Nothing is too major or too seemingly trivial because Everyday Sexism is all about exposing the niggling undercurrent of chauvinism to which we have all become anaesthetised.  From the opportunistic leering of the workman to the glib remarks of the narcissistic boyfriend hell bent on denting your self-esteem, Everyday Sexism is a murky cave you can shout into and listen to the echo coming back, all from people who’ve had experiences just like yours.

I signed up to it for approximately three days.  The deluge of depressing 140 digit revelations that poured into my twitter feed like so much effluent made me want to don a wimple and plot the downfall of the male race.  And speaking as the daughter of a man whose idea of female liberation was having a flask of coffee put by his bed each night, so my stepmother didn’t have to get up at 5 am to switch the kettle on, I thought I was impervious to the dark arts of the misogynist.

If the 23,500 tweets to date don’t convince you that we’ve still got a long way to go, the hate mail received by Everyday Sexism founder, Laura Bates, might.  Since the project’s conception only one year ago, threats of violence, rape and even death have filtered into her inbox with alarming regularity.  Add to this the fact that we still live in a world where phenomenally successful women feel the need to pander to their husband’s egos (Beyonce’s current ‘Mrs Carter’ tour really makes me want to throw my hands up) and you wonder if it isn’t time for a new mouthpiece for feminism.

Our newsagents’ shelves desperately need to offer a real alternative to the mainstream triumvirate of celebrities, cupcakes and childcare, but let it be something that is witty and fearless and entirely devoid of cliché.  MP’s serving Bloody Marys in Bunny Girl outfits might not say equality, but it’s not timid and it makes for good satire.  Haters are going to hate, but I hope the newly revamped Spare Rib becomes the kind of All Girls’ Club I can get on board with.  One that punches its own weight, knows how to let its hair down and is inclusive to everyone.  Even men.