Friday, 21 May 2010

Arbitrary

new post at my new wordpress blog:

http://quietgirlriot.wordpress.com./

Come join me! If any of you have a wordpress blog I will link to it on my page!

X

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Questionnaire for potential dominants

1. Are you single? If yes, go to q3. If no, go to q2.

2. Are you and your partner(s) open and honest about the fact you see other people? If yes go to q3. If no, go away.

3. Are you a feminist, or at least an ally of feminism? If yes, go to q4. If no, fuck off.

4. Do you believe we should be making kinky spaces and erotica that is accessible to everyone, including men and women, cis and transgender and gender-non conforming people, LGBQ people, and people from all ethnic origins? If yes go to q5. If no, go and educate yourself.

5. Would you ever consider switching during play or during a relationship? i.e. from D to S, from Top to Bottom? If yes, go to q6. If no, grow a pair.

6. Do you like any or all of Bitchy Jones, Girl with a one track mind, Michel Foucault, Stephen Elliot, Anais Nin, Sappho, Dirty Filthy Things, The Piano Teacher, Michael Hanneke? If yes, go to q7. If no, go and explore.

7. Do you agree with Judith Butler that gender is performance? If yes, go to q8. If no, go to the back of the class. If ‘who is Judith Butler’? just go, and don’t come back till you know the answer.

8. Do you practice safe sex, take responsibility for and talk about contraception with your playmates and partners? If yes, go to q9. If no, get with the programme!

9. Do you think fucktheory is the best thing on the internet since www.drawyourboss.com? If yes go to q10. If no, we need to talk. If ’what is fucktheory’? it is this: http://fucktheory.tumblr.com/

10. So are you going to buy me a drink then?

Moving to wordpress

Hello everyone

I am so chuffed that people have started to comment on my blog, and to use it as a place to discuss a range of issues. Without this interaction with you, blogging would be a lonely business. I have moved my blog to wordpress, where I will focus on the kink and sexual politics aspect of my writing. I will post on here and on the new blog for a while incase you need a bit of time before you come and join me there too! I might leave this here as well in case I still want to write about other stuff.

http://quietgirlriot.wordpress.com

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Paradox

He says I am a paradox.

People always say that. Normally they mean it is paradoxical that a feminist and a 'strong woman' like me could be submissive. Let a man walk all over her like that. But I don't see any paradox there. It's just sex. You don't have to re-enact all your political views in the bedroom do you? If so, I expect the Christian Right and the environmentalists have a pretty dull time in the sack.

But he means something else. I know. The way his eyes bore into me the way he told me to look at him, but I couldn't. The way I suddenly got embarrassed when I was undressing and stopped until he told me to go on. He knows that there is a part of me that just doesn't want to do it. That is so shy I cannot quite bear to be exposed like this, naked and vulnerable in front of him. And yet I keep coming back, keep turning up in those heels I can't really walk in. Keep bending over. Expectant.

He says I am a paradox and he is right. But paradoxes can be hot, can't they?

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Taken Part Two

When we emerge out onto the grubby street the atmosphere changes, darkens. If I thought it was some kind of game before, I know it isn't now. I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as fear grips my body. He looks at me again, impassive, unreadable. I think about my flat, the comfy sofa, the bottle of wine waiting for me in the fridge. It seems they are in some other life, that I have left behind. Then I can't think about anything, as he grabs me by the arm and drags me along the pavement, digging his fingers into the flesh of my arm. 'Hurry up bitch'.

An alleyway appears and he leads me in, shoving me against the wall. He parts my legs with his, and pushes his body into mine, with all his strength. Now, I could not escape if I tried. I can feel the hardness of his cock against my clothes. He rubs it against me slowly and deliberately. Then he takes my face in one of his hands and pulls it towards him.

'Look at me' he demands. I force myself to look into his eyes, starting to feel a little faint.

'Tell me you want me inside you'. It almost feels as if I have been drugged. My head is heavy, I want to find the words but I struggle.

'I... I...'

'Say it, whore'. With that he pulls me by my hair, so my head knocks against the brick wall.

'I...'

'Yes?' I feel his cock thrusting into me.

'I want you in .. me'.

'Good girl'.

Suddenly he is undoing his trousers, pulling a condom out of nowhere and putting it on before he pushes up my skirt and pulls my knickers to the side. His fingers find me soaking. There is nowhere left to run.

'You filthy little bitch'

As he fucks me I can feel the back of my legs chafing against the brickwork. I hold onto him as if I might fall. He pinches my nipples and bites my neck, like some kind of animal. There is nothing I can do but take it. Our orgasms come at once, breathless and pained.

When he has finished he does up his trousers and waits while I try to straighten myself out.

Neither of us speak but he beckons and I go to him. He kisses the top of my head.

'Thank you' he says. 'Thank-you girl'.

And then he is gone. I stumble out of the alleyway onto the street, trying to remember who I am and where I live. As I walk home my tights ripped and my legs sore, I feel a throbbing in my cunt and I smile.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Taken

It is hot in the city. But underground it's a furnace. My tights are sticking to my legs as I clamber onto the tube with all the other sweating commuters. Hanging from the rail above my head, my underarms are not as fragrant as they were when I left the office. There is nothing I can do about it now.

The doors slide open to let another bunch of wilting workers onto the train. I squeeze myself further back into the vehicle. I am someone who likes her personal space, so the tall, muscular man that pushes himself right up against my body has well and truly invaded. I try to scowl at him but end up staring pleadingly into his dark, inscrutable eyes. His look says 'I will stand where I damn well want'. I cast my eyes down and keep them facing my shoes for the rest of the journey.

When we finally reach my stop I fight through the crowd onto the platform and and over to the escalator that will lead me back out into the humid evening. I do not turn back to look, but I sense someone behind me, so close I can feel his body lightly brushing against my back. I hold my breath. At the station entrance I hesitate, suddenly unsure which way to go even though I have made this journey a thousand times before. 'Hello' says a voice, deep and self-assured. It is him. What happens next is inexplicable, and completely out of character for me. My whole body is screaming at me to run, to ignore this stranger and get myself to the safety of my home. Maybe it is the heat, but I ignore my instincts. I smile weakly at the man, who has now placed his hand on my arm and is squeezing it firmly. 'Hello'. I am now disoriented and don't know where I want to go. Sensing my indecision, he says 'follow me' assertively, and starts to march down the street in the opposite direction to where I live. I do not disobey.

At the entrance to a pub he stops abruptly and so do I. Looking me dead in the eye he tells me, 'You are free to go. It is your choice. You do know that don't you?' I nod, in some kind of daze.
Before I know it I am sat next to him in a dark corner, sipping a glass of white wine, my fingers shaking slightly as I try to look composed. He on the other hand is as relaxed as if we had known each other for years. He wears a shirt but no tie, and the top button is undone to reveal the top of a hairy chest. I don't even know his name.

Suddenly I feel his hand between my knees, pushing them apart. Not roughly, but not gently either. He leans in and whispers in my ear. 'I want you. Now.' The words make me panic. I look around me, feeling slightly nauseous. I am in a public bar. I could get up to leave. I could alert a member of staff. I could scream. But I do none of these things. I am not in danger and yet I am terrified. I am terrified of what he might do to me. I am terrified of what I might let him do to me. I take a gulp of wine and feel his hand move up from my knees along the inside of my thighs. Oh God. I blush red crimson. I wriggle to avoid his fingers reaching in to find me. When I dare to look at him he is grinning broadly. 'Good girl' he says. 'You're a good girl.' Then he grabs my hand, pulls me from the seat and marches me out of the pub into the hot, humid night.

To be continued...

Riding The Third Wave

Feminism has had a resurgence recently. The third wave is finally here! In the UK there are feminist organisations sprouting up everywhere, dealing with issues such as equal pay, violence against women, objectification in the media, sex-work and lap-dancing.

And there's the rub. I do not identify with these feminists, because my attitude towards sex, sexuality and sex work is almost diametrically opposed to that of the 'third wave feminists' around me. If I feel so differently from them on these important subjects, maybe I am not in agreement on many others either.

Two new pieces of Uk legislation, achieved through lobbying by high-profile feminist groups serve to underline my point of view. The first means lap-dancing clubs now have to apply for a special 'sex establishment' license, which costs money to obtain. The second criminalises clients of coerced sex-workers. I oppose these laws. The feminist lobbyists did not consult sex workers about their proposals. The laws will mean sex-work will go further underground, and will probably lead to sex-workers being forced to work in more dangerous unregulated conditions. Also, these feminists seem led by puritanical motives: they feel offended by sex work, and they want to remove it from their sight, from their nice suburban neighbourhoods.

My kink has become more and more important to my feminism as time goes on. Sexuality is a vital aspect of how we express and identify ourselves. When the UK also made a law criminalising viewers of extreme pornography, which passed unopposed by most feminist groups, I realised kink is more than identity politics; it involves the politics of civil liberties and minority rights as well. So now I wear my kink proudly, along with my support of sex workers' rights, my belief in the equality of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people, and my campaigns against racism and prejudice everywhere.

Your feminism is not my feminism and that's ok. But in setting up this Blog Carnival, I am delighted and relieved to find myself amongst people whose feminism IS similar to mine. I am also looking forward to exploring the diversity of our kinky interests in a safe and accepting space. Let's ride the third wave together and change the way it rolls onto the shore.

Monday, 10 May 2010

A Small, Good Thing

The sun is shining on London's suburbs. A funfair is in town. People are wandering into the park to take in the atmosphere, try their luck on the coconut shy, or brave the ghost train. The cool lads are hanging about by the park gates, pretending not to care. But secretly they feel like running over to the scariest looking ride and jumping on like the kids they still are. Two girls approach from across the road, heading towards the candyfloss and sawdust, the thrill and dingy sexiness of the fair. One of the boys, he seems like a ringleader of the group, he's taller and louder than the others. He turns and looks the girls up and down, deliberately resting his eyes on their chests, the bare skin of their bellies where their tops don't quite reach. 'OH yes.' he says, for the benefit of his mates. 'You are VERY sexy. Hot.' He doesn't go so far to block the girls' way into the park, but he thinks about it. They faulter a little in their step. They know he could do whatever he wanted. But they walk on by, trying to ignore the whistles and catcalls that follow them.

I have witnessed this scene or versions of it, a thousand times before. Sometimes I am one of the girls, other times I am just present, maybe a few feet away, but within earshot and full sight of what is being said and done. I have never intervened in such casual, seemingly 'innocent' banter. It is just what boys do isn't it?

But this time the story didn't end there. One of the lads, quieter than his friend, looked at his friend and said in a clearly disapproving tone: 'don't be stupid. You don't even know them'. Then he turned away from the agression he'd perceived from his mate, and walked down the street, a couple of the other boys following him.

It wasn't much. A girl was harassed on her way to the fair. A boy challenged his friend, showing he opposed this harassment, of girls, who the boys didn't even know to say hello to. It didn't change the world. But it made me stop in my tracks. I had never seen a man speak out against the sexist behaviour of his friends before, let alone such a young man. It was a small, good thing, and it made me proud.



Saturday, 8 May 2010

The Deal

Friday May 7th, 9pm

London. Rain.

The atmosphere is tense in London but also heavy with boredom. We are caught in a political limbo. Our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has lost his footing and is starting to slide down the mountain. He and his family are squatters in their own home, and will most likely be evicted by Monday morning. He knows that history is being made, but not by him. Someone else is holding all the cards.

Britain is crawling towards what will probably be our first coalition Government in over thirty five years, only this time the cameras are rolling. Everyone is glued to their TV. This has been the first truly televised election, as the Labour administration succumbed and allowed live TV debates between the leaders of the three main parties. We could only tell them apart by the colour of their ties and the slight nuances in their accents. One of them, Nick Clegg, came out from nowhere to wow the audiences with his stylised sincerity. Suddenly, though his party came third in the actual election, he is holding the balance of power. It's a post-modern tale of the little guy catapulted onto the big media-dominated stage. And it is also a race against time. 'I love you Liberalism, but I've only got 48 hours to save my career and gain the power I crave'.

But now that the most important and intriguing action of the election is underway, we are not allowed to see. The real deals are being made behind heavy oak doors, by civil servants we have never heard of, wearing grey suits, high on adrenalin and lack of sleep. There are no pictures of planes flying into buildings, nobody is vandalising McDonalds. We have forgotten that Athens is burning, that the markets are plummeting, that somewhere high above us the sky is still full of volcanic ash. We are sat semi-comatosed on our sofas, watching tired TV anchors talking straight to camera, reporting on what we already know. There is nothing to report. I blink at the screen, slowly bringing my glass to my lips. I have a deadline tomorrow; I should really be getting some sleep.

Saturday May 8th, 10.30 am,

London. Grey skies

The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are rumoured to be in 'talks'. Between them they would hold a majority of seats in Parliament, and are desperately trying to find some common ground, after telling us all they had none. The LibDems were sold to us as the party of social justice, promising electoral reform, environmental responsibility, public services and fairer taxes. The Tories never pretended to be much more than the upper-class peddlers of neo-conservatism that they so obviously are. The liberal 'twitterati' are up in arms about the way the dice are being shaken. #Hashtag after #hashtag is being produced, as if Nick Clegg might actually be sat in the back of his limo, reading the messages on his i-phone, being persuaded by these online opinion leaders, that actually this deal with the devil is not such a good idea after all. But within minutes #dontdoitnick has morphed into #dontdoitblix and #dontdoitdick until it becomes the inevitable #dontdoitrick. Democracy is rick-rolled as the internet turns political protest into a meme. Labour supporters say 100,000 Retweets are needed to achieve electoral reform. Skeptics like me are ROFL.

Saturday May 8th 2.45 pm

London. More rain.

A flash-mob demo has started in Trafalgar Square, in the name of electoral reform and Proportional Representation. Irritated tweets are arriving from demonstrators who can't see or hear the speakers because they are being obstructed by Morris Dancers. When given the chance, the true tribes of England march on Parliament, with bells and ribbons and sticks. The demonstrators find their way to the building where Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are planning their bargaining strategy. Calls of 'Come Out Nick!' ring through the air. Eventually the Liberal leader emerges on the steps and tells the protestors he is on their side. But he suggests they go home and carry on their campaigns somewhere else. He has got a deal to broker. He doesn't need this right now.

As The Queen stands by her phone, waiting to be 'activated' like a character in a computer game, the salesmen continue their pitches. Everything is still to play for. But also the game is long-since over. The real Faustian pact was made back in 2003, when Blair ordered the invasion of Iraq, simultaneously cementing the 'special relationship' with the Bush administration, and securing his lucrative career in the 'peacemaking' business when it was all over. Blair's mercenary, cold-blooded, wild-eyed ghost has haunted this election, along with those of thousands of Iraqi people; he came back to remind us there aren't any good guys left. So it is now down to whoever offers the best package at the lowest price.

I don't know how the story ends. I have to submit my copy before the men in suits close the deal. Their hands are grubby from rooting around in the mud. I can see them now, wiping them on their trousers before looking each other in the eye and shaking on it. 'Nice doing business with you’ they will say, before heading back out onto the street. Maybe the demonstrators will be waiting for them again. Except nobody will be Morris Dancing, or tweeting. This time the people might be ready for a fight. We have nothing to lose.



Friday, 7 May 2010

Stiletto Rage

Arguing about gender roles is something I love to do. I have realised that I particularly enjoy doing it with dominant men, even when I am within striking distance. Foolish maybe, but I cannot help myself.

A typical argument might go along these lines:

Him:'I would like to see you in stilettos and a tight pencil skirt'.

Me:'That's such a fucking cliche. Why does the collective imagination of all the male dominants in the world get reduced to a woman in heels and a revealing outfit?'

Him:'Because it looks good. And you would be restricted and exposed at the same time'.

Me: 'It's not fucking fair. Women submissives have to fit into this cliched stereotype of femininity in order to fulfil their need to be submissive. And I am a feminist and it makes me angry to be forced into a role I have been resisting all my life'.

Him: 'Oh good. So you might find it humiliating as well. Excellent'.

Me: 'GGGrrr. That's not the point. Why can't men think of other ways to objectify women apart from the ways they are already objectified in society?'

Him: 'Shut up and put those shoes on, bitch'.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Keeping Away My Lonesome Blues

A twitter friend in another country recently asked me to comment on the UK election. Unfortunately, this election has rendered me speechless. Unlike Gordon Brown, whose supporters have been excitedly posting youtube clips of the moment he 'found his voice', I have remained unable to articulate my real views on this depressing spectacle. I think that's what depression is in some ways, an inability to express one's feelings.
So, whilst me and them lonesome blues collide on the eve of the conclusion to this seemingly interminable election, I'm handing over the mic to some braver, more eloquent souls than me. As seen on twitter:

'On the eve of #ge2010, I'm featuring the election blogs that have inspired me most and which have made my election 'media coverage' bearable


Next in my election blog special, @brokenbottleboy 's letter to his 13 year old self, 13 years after 1997: http://tinyurl.com/36rmxnv

And this brilliant demolition of the BNP by @andshesaidithttp://tinyurl.com/3xensry is one of the best things I've read on the election!

Finally, a blog that really resonated with me, by @mistertumnusabout the power of being quietly subversive:http://tinyurl.com/3y5hxpd '

Thank-you, and goodnight*.

*I hope that Friday I will be back to my motivated, verbal, politically angry and active self!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

A Long Time After Niemoller

First they came for Gillian Duffy
But I was not a bigoted woman so I did not speak out.

Then they came for Philippa Stroud
But I was not a homophobic evangelical Christian Tory so I did not speak out.

Then they came for Nick Griffin
And I was not a fascist so I laughed as they tore him to shreds.

Now the world is a better place.
And the bastards can't get us anymore.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Why 'Rapist' Is A Dirty Word

I thank my lucky stars that I have never been raped. I have been assaulted by an ex partner though. Even as I lay there, taking his blows, trying not to breathe, a half-thought passed through my mind. It wasn't fully formed, it was barely conscious, but it was definitely there. 'I hope he doesn't rape me' I almost thought, 'I'd rather be killed'. My heart goes out to everyone who survives rape, and who lives to tell (or not tell) the tale. My heart goes out to all the families, lovers and friends of those who don't survive. I want to honour all those people, but I am not quite sure how.

Rape is possibly the most emotive issue that feminists tackle. It is an understatement to say that the subject of rape makes us angry and upset. In amongst our feelings of anger is a sense of despair. For, unlike many issues on which we campaign, such as the gender pay gap, abortion, gay and lesbian rights, the rights of people who identify as trans gender, we seem to be making no headway at all in our efforts to combat rape.

Feminists have long-since abandoned the slogan 'all men are rapists' (at least I hope they have). But many feminists hold onto the term 'rapists'. They use it to describe specific men such as Jack Tweed, who was recently cleared of rape in the courts, despite compelling evidence pointing to his guilt. They use it more generally, to describe abstract 'rapists', the ones contained in the depressing rape statistics, the rapists who attack their wives, girlfriends, dates, ex-partners on a daily basis. THEM. I am not happy about this use of the term 'rapist'. I will try and explain why.

I believe that all labels that are used as a shorthand to create a simplified, negative image of people are damaging. When we say 'rapist' we turn a verb into a noun, an action or a set of actions into the sole defining characteristic of a person. 'Addict', 'Paedophile', 'Racist', 'Psycho', 'Rapist'. These words all conjur up images of unsavoury characters, motivated by wholly negative impulses, to commit monstrous acts. These terms don't sound like they are describing people at all.

I mean, you wouldn't want to date a rapist would you? You wouldn't fall in love with a racist, a psycho, an addict. You'd cross the street and go inside and lock your door. But many, many, people do fall in love with, marry, care about, live with people who do use drugs, are dependent on alcohol, do hold views that are far from tolerant, do hurt their partner or child, or someone else's partner or child. We can't make this fact disappear simply by giving those people a name, by calling them 'OTHER'. They are you and me, they are your brother and my father, your husband and my brother. They are human.

Is this difficult to accept? Do I sound like I am defending people who commit rape? Does it seem as if I am underplaying the serious nature of the crime? I am not. I am as horrified and depressed as you are, to read about countries where rape is used as a state-approved instrument of torture. I cry when I think about the millions of rapes that go unreported in the world, or that get reported but do not lead to convictions.

But if we are to have any hope of turning things around, of changing the world in which we live, we have to change the way we perceive and talk about rape, and in particular the way we perceive and talk about people who commit rape at some point in their lives. The judicial system in the UK is supposed to enable rehabilitation and reform of the criminal individual. Aside from the paultry conviction rates, when it comes to rape I don't believe it even tries. This is in part because our shared understanding of the word 'rapist' as meaning 'monster', 'other', results in us treating 'rapists' as being unable to reform, as beyond help.

So, we find ourselves stuck in a paradoxical situation. On one hand rape is trivialised in our society, not taken seriously, and hardly punished. On the other hand, we conceptualise the 'rapist' as an evil character, that we do not recognise as being one of us, as a human being.

I thank my lucky stars that I have never been raped. I am sad and angry that I have to feel 'lucky'. It ought to be something I take for granted as part of my liberty, living as I do in a 'free country'. But I know I never will. Nor will I take for granted the language I use to talk about rape. Feminists know that language can be a powerful weapon or a tool of liberation. We should handle it with care.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Help! The New Puritans Are Coming!

Sometimes it seems as if the default position of the contemporary feminist is 'offended of Tunbridge Wells'. There is not a day that goes by without an article, blogpost, letter to a newspaper or a twitter feed in which a feminist tells us of her outrage and horror at yet another 'offensive' aspect of our culture. Pornography, lap-dancing clubs, advertising, fashion magazines, comedians, Suri Cruise's stilettos- there is no shortage of offensive objects and phenomena for feminists to get their knickers in a twist about. I find this particular trait of my sisters-in-arms very disturbing.

The reason I am so concerned about this 'New Puritanism' is that I think it is based on an individualistic, neo-liberal philosophy, and is implicitly moralistic and self-righteous. Also, perhaps most worryingly, it can only lead to negative action such as censorship and the criminalisation of particular groups and individuals in our society.

Take lap-dancing for example. Recently two feminist groups-OBJECT and The Fawcett Society-successfully campaigned for (and helped design) legislation making it harder for lap-dancing clubs to obtain licenses in England. This change in the law comes as a direct result of lobbying on behalf of those who feel 'offended' by the presence of these clubs in their cities and towns. It did not result from any consultation with those who will be most affected by the new laws: women who work in those clubs.

Another example of the power of the offended comes from advertising. A recent advert placed in glossy home decor magazines was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority after it received only six complaints. The advert showed a geisha, bound and lying on a tiled floor (the product being advertised). The ASA decided the image condoned sexual violence as the woman, in a 'submissive' pose, looked 'upset'. I wonder how the photographer, a Japanese artist, felt, being accused of making images that 'condone rape'.

If we look at this 'New Puritanism' through a slightly different lens, we can see clearly how it permeates our society in many reactionary and damaging ways. Traditional Catholics find abortion offensive, and do all they can to obstruct women's right to choose. Many Muslims were so offended by Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses, they ordered a fatwa. Members of the Christian Right in America find homosexuality offensive, and they promote and act out homophobic behaviours and policies as a result. The fact is that different people find different things offensive, so to turn on that which offends you is, well, impractical, but also, in my view morally wrong.

So while feminists are flicking through Home and Garden, tutting at the objectified imagery of women in adverts for expensive floor coverings, our civil liberties are being taken from us right under our turned-up noses. In 2008 an ammendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act making it illegal to possess 'extreme pornography' was passed without so much as a murmur from most feminist groups. So suddenly people who look at and own images of 'violent' consensual BDSM acts, are liable to be prosecuted and sentenced to up to three years in jail.

What I find most disappointing about the 'New Puritans' is that their approach lacks intellectual sophistication and critical thought. The relationship between representation and reality is complex, the meanings and implications of pornography, sex work and advertising are many and varied, and sometimes contradictory. If feminism is to have any chance of achieving its aim of say, ending violence against women, it has to embrace this complexity and contradiction. I don't want to offend anyone, but the 'new puritans' don't have the analytical or philosophical backbone to do this. I'm not offended by their attachment to Mary Whitehouse style knee-jerk moralism, but I am pretty pissed off.

Links

Thursday, 22 April 2010

A Close Shave

I am sitting on the ledge at the end of his bath. He is crouched below me in the empty tub. We are both naked. In theory, I could be holding the power in this situation, as I am sat above him looking down. I could probably even kick him in the balls if I tried. But it is me who is feeling vulnerable and exposed. He has got me exactly where he wants me, and I am completely at his mercy. Power, it transpires, belongs to whoever wants it most.

Also he is holding a weapon: a small, manual razor, the blade flashing silver in the fluorescent light. I shiver, though it's not cold. He notices my discomfort and smiles. 'Nervous'? he asks but I know better than to reply. Suddenly the cute little erotic story I have been writing in my mind transforms itself into a slasher movie. I see Carrie in her blood-stained prom dress, I see the shower scene from Psycho. I see that Algerian man from 'Cache', slitting his own throat in front of his childhood friend, the blood spurting out from his neck and onto the kitchen floor. I start to think about that short by Scorsese: 'The Big Shave'. It shows a man cutting himself shaving. Only in this mini horror the blood keeps on pouring. The more he shaves the bloodier it gets until the sink is a crimson pool, the man's face the scene of a massacre.

I imagine him taking the razor and slicing me up into little pieces, my blood splattering all over the pristine white tiles, the bath, the shower curtain, his pale body. What the fuck am I doing here? I barely know this man. Maybe I should have asked myself that question much earlier, before we drank all that wine, before he told me to undress, before he put me over his knee and spanked me till my arse bruised purple, blue, black. 'Relax' he says, but I can't.

I try to rationalise my fears. He wouldn't want to mess up his lovely apartment would he? He wouldn't want the hassle of becoming the owner of a crime scene, wouldn't want to annoy his neighbours with the sound of a woman, screaming? No, he just wants to have a bit of fun, like me. Except I am not having fun right now. I am terrified.

Everything stops. I feel a sudden freezing sensation on my skin below my belly. I flinch and breathe in sharply. Looking down I see I am covered in blue shaving gel. It looks so clinical, like the stuff they put on a pregnant woman before an ultrasound. I sit still as a stone. Then I watch transfixed, as he takes the raxor and slowly starts to shave, scraping off little clumps of pubic hair mingled with the gel. The sensation is not entirely unpleasant. I am in awe: nobody not even me has done this before. His expression is one of complete concentraion. He holds his hand steady as he pulls those flaps of my skin to one side to get to the hardest to reach hairs. when he has finished and rinsed me with the shower I examine the results. I have not been this naked since I was about eleven years old. It is weird: I can't remember actually acquiring pubic hair. It is as if I went to bed one night a child and woke up the next morning a woman. But now I am a child again, no, more like a mannequin. It feels strange, but also horny. 'I am the first to do this to you' he declares, staking his claim. 'You belong to me now'.

Later, in the safety of the darkness, I finally let myself go. He plays with his new toy, licking and prodding it with his tongue, stroking the smooth skin with his fingers. He whispers in my ear as he holds me down, telling me what a beautiful cunt I have. As I lie back, preparing myself for the tsunami that is about to wash over my shores, I cannot help but agree.

When I finally fall asleep I dream of naked flesh, of cold metal cutting through skin. And blood. These days my dreams are always soaked in blood.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Sex, Lies and Videotape

I first saw Steven Soderberg's Sex, Lies and Videotape in 1989, soon after it won the Palme D'Or at Cannes. I watched it with my boyfriend in a cinema in Paris. We were 18 and in love. Being on holiday in the most romantic city I knew, I felt a certain degree of pressure to match up to it.

I wanted our own acts of love to emulate 'La Cite d'amour'. I thought we should try to embody the sensual beauty of the Parisian streets, grey and green in the sunlight, to become the pink blush of the rose in our glasses, amidst the gaudy neon signs of Pigalle. But I knew we never would. So I was glad to escape from this slight feeling of inadequacy, into the comforting darkness of the cinema, together but separate from my lover.

Sex, Lies and Videotape is a love song to sexual repression. It's a film about the crap we talk to our partner, when we should be discussing our love life. It tells us how sometimes it takes a 'fucked up' individual (James Spader), wanking to videos he has made of women talking, to bring out the lifeblood and sexuality of a lonely woman (Andi McDowell). The film resonated with me so strongly, that I thought I might orgasm out of sheer relief. 'Yes, oh YES!' I wanted to scream, 'That's how I FEEL!'. Instead I just squirmed in my seat.

I must have sensed, even then, that there was something incredibly kinky about the main premise of Sex, Lies and Videotape. But I was so young, my repression so complete, that this feeling was mainly subconscious. It took me a long time for it to fully dawn on me just how horny I find it, the idea of a man videoing women talking about sex. The fact that some of those women masturbate as they do so just adds to the horniness. It is so clinical, so distant, so removed from the actual, carnal act of fucking. And distance, as Lacan and I know, is hot.

But at the time I thought I was simply identifying with another woman's sexual inhibitions. I'd never heard of Andi McDowell the actress-this was before she found fame (or infamy?) in classics such as Groundhog Day and Green Card. To me she was just an uptight woman who couldn't reach orgasm, who could barely finish a ... sentence. I saw myself so clearly in her character. It felt as if she was forgiving me for some unspoken sin I'd committed long ago.

I don't remember what happened after the lights went up. I expect, knowing the 18 year-old me, that I kept quiet about my views on the film, so partially formed they were, so closely they related to my secret, innermost 'self'. We probably went back to our hotel room and had sex, in that awkward, respectful, sorrowful way we used to do. I know one thing for sure. I most certainly didn't come.

Twenty years on, Sex Lies and Videotape remains amongst my favourite films. Now I fully appreciate both its beautifully perverted core and its psychological depth. I'm happy to say I'm no longer that girl who identified so strongly with McDowell's character. As you are aware, dear reader, I'm not scared to talk about sex anymore. And these days when I fuck, I tend to make sure I come, and come hard.

But nobody completely sheds their adolescent skin. I remain repressed in some important and deep-seated ways. I am able to enjoy sexual release, but it's often with men who are practically strangers to me that I feel most free. I still find it difficult to talk about sex and to lose myself in sex with someone I love. So Sex, Lies and Videotape still speaks to me like a friend who knows me intimately, maybe even better than I know myself. I will always love it for that.


Post Script

It is also recently that I have come to appreciate the real significance of the scene when McDowell takes the camera and turns it on Spader, transforming the male gaze of the film into a female one. If ever we do meet, and the conversation turns to sex, which it most certainly will, I suggest you check all my gadgets first before you open your mouth, to see if I have pressed 'record'.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Geisha: An Essay On Orientalism in Three Parts

Part One: Servant

Some hipster boys in Parkslopes, Brooklyn, are planning a party. It is springtime in New York City, and they are celebrating the arrival of the cherry blossom, Japanese style. They love the way the delicate pink flowers scatter on the sidewalk like silk confetti. It contrasts with the dark slabs of the brownstone buildings where they live. Actually, they don't really give a fuck about the cherry blossom, but it makes a good enough excuse to get wasted and chase women. One of the hipsters thinks they should hire a 'geisha girl' to serve drinks and greet their guests. It would add some Oriental authenticity to the proceedings. He saw a Geisha porno a while back, and couldn't take his eyes off the beautiful porcelain face, painted exquisitely with make-up, eyes down as she 'served' her master. She was so goddamn ... compliant. So the boys put up an ad on Craigslist, asking for an actress who wants to be a Geisha girl for the evening. They are hoping she will be Asian, but a white chick could probably do the job just as well, if she dressed and acted the part. They offer cash, plus a free photoshoot, sit back with some cold beers and wait for the replies to flood into their in-box.

Part Two: Whore

He rings the little handbell and she silently appears. Her head is bowed but he can see how beautiful her face is, painted like a china doll's. He tells her to kneel and she does. Her hands fall instinctively behind her back. She clasps them together and looks up at him, her crystal eyes shining. He returns her gaze and takes it over, fixing her in his stare. 'I have you' his eyes say. 'You are mine for the taking'. Slowly, he places his hand on her head, gently touching her hair, pushing it to one side. Suddenly he pulls his hand away and she gasps, anticipating what is to come. But he is not going to hit her. Not now. That will come later. In this moment he is satisfied just to stand there,to watch intently as she holds herself still, offering her body for him to do as he pleases. Soon he will take the rope piled on the floor and bind her, Shibari style. The rope will tighten round the silk of her dress, showing the curves of her perfect form. He will notice her nipples, poking through the thin material and he will take one between his thumb and forefinger, pinching it hard. She will gasp again, this time in pain. 'Does it hurt?' he will ask. She will nod slowly. 'But you like it, you little whore-your nipples are like bullets'. Then he will lift up her dress and shove his hand between her legs, roughly pushing them apart to find his quarry. She doesn't wear knickers on these visits, and her juice will already be dripping down from her cunt towards her thighs. 'Good girl' he will say. 'My good little geisha girl'.

Part Three: Wife

I used to be friends with a couple, Josh and Midori. Josh was an academic, something in social science. Midori was Japanese; they had met at university. She worked in Market Research. I was fascinated and a little in awe of Midori. The way she would write her name in Japanese, as if it was a painting not a word. She was so tiny that she had to buy children's clothes, or get them made specially for her. Josh always went on about what a great cook she was: and Midori was a great cook. It was one of the reasons I hung out at their place so much. So when she came to stay with me on her own, I was worried she wouldn't like my food, but she was happy with vegetable curry. She taught me how to add a dash of fresh lemon juice, just before serving, to give it an extra kick. We stayed up late talking, about books and life, suddenly free from the constraints of Josh's domineering presence. Midori asked me about feminism and I told her my stories. When she'd gone I sent her a book: 'Introduction to Feminism'. The next time I saw Josh in the pub he told me he'd taken the book and thrown it across the room, saying 'fuck that'. We laughed but I think he was serious. I haven't seen them in years.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Sex For Sale

I chatted to him online for a while, before we arranged to meet. I agreed I would stay at his place; I had friends and family in London I knew I'd have somewhere to go if I bailed. When I got to the bar in Islington it came as no surprise to me that he bought me a drink and then swiftly started to eat my face. His hands were warm, but a bit too small for my liking as he dragged me across Upper St to his flat on the Canalside.

I stayed there for three nights and he never once let me pay for anything; not even a cup of coffee, not even a pint of milk. The sex was good, I think I screamed once. I remember he had a film poster in his bathroom. He looked after me. I got the train home and never saw him again.

I recall this vignette, now, as it serves as a backdrop to the realisation I keep on having lately, some kind of epiphany if you like to be dramatic about these things. My realisation is this: sex work is everywhere and we all are involved. That's why when I write about feminism and sex, or feminism and pornography, or feminism and prostitution, it feels personal. I may have not worked as a sex worker, but I have exchanged my body for something: a bed for the night, a drink and a meal, a boost to my ego, a momentary escape from some pain or other.

I am a feminist and always will be. I know women get exploited, trafficked, murdered, in the 'sex industry'. But women get murdered by their partners too, and nobody talks about 'marriage' or 'love' as if it was a dirty word. I don't have a burning ambition to work in a lap-dancing club, I am wary of the concept, suggested by the sociologist Catherine Hakim, of the profitablity and power of 'erotic capital'. We can't all be Madonna or Belle de Jour.

But when I talk about sex work I include myself in the picture. And I include you too. If we don't talk about it as participants, then we are 'othering' the women who overtly exchange sex for money. We are still thinking of them as whores. Whores who need rescuing (Pretty Woman style), maybe, but whores all the same. I prefer to think of sex workers as people. I feel ashamed that I haven't always thought this way.


Thursday, 8 April 2010

I Can't Even Think Straight

I've been heterosexual for as long as I've been sexual, openly since I was about 14. I don't think too much about what went before. I do remember playing some pretty weird games with my Barbie Dolls. But that is another story.

By heterosexual what I basically mean is 'I like boys'. I like the way they move and talk. I like the way their bodies bulge out of their clothes in different ways from how girls' bodies do. In recent years I confess I have developed a shallow but refined respect for the athletic male form. I dated a climber for a few, giddy months. I suffer from vertigo. But I would march up hills and stand with him, peering nervously over the edge of the rock to examine the route, because it gave me a chance to see that beautiful torso in its natural habitat. The upper body of a fit male climber is a kind of perfection in my eyes. Once you find it it's difficult to go back to the more common, flabbier, less defined variety of the species.

So, despite my aesthetic appreciation of beautiful women, and my are there some beautiful women in the world (Monica Belucci anyone? Scarlett Johannson before she went all Hollywoodised? Sandrine Bonart, Jenny Lewis, that redhead I saw on the tube the other day) I am straight. Except I can't bring myself to identify as 'straight', not really. I'm not a prick. I wouldn't insult my lesbian and gay friends by claiming the political status of being 'bi' or 'queer'. I know I enjoy all the privileges of a straight, white middle class woman living in a heteronormative society. This is not a coming out letter. But I don't feel straight. I don't think straight. I don't do the things many of my straight peers do.

Perhaps this is becoming more of an important issue to me because of my age. I am 39 and I don't have kids. I don't have a partner or a mortgage, or an interest in talking about kitchen design. I feel alienated from some of my friends who do have those things, and who seem to gain some comfort from them, some kind of identity. I can't open a newspaper or magazine without reading about the habits and desires of 'people like them', people with townhouses in Dalston or Clifton or Chorlton. People with pushchairs that have a place where you can put your capuccino while you're on the move. People who see themselves, to a greater or lesser extent, in the media, in politics, in the farmers' market on a Saturday. I don't see myself any of those places. I am not even sure who I see when I look in the mirror.

Then there's sex. I am not very 'straight' when it comes to sex, apart from the gender of the people I tend to have sex with. My longest relationship was with someone who would have been gay, if it wasn't for the fact he had a girlfriend (me). We liked anal and doggy style, we both lusted after River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho, we both looking back on it were probably submissive, which wasn't exactly a recipe for fulfillment. Many years later I've explored that submissive side of my sexuality, and that hasn't felt very 'straight' either. I know everyone is supposed to be experimental these days, but in reality, in my reality, that does not seem to be the case. I have only had embarrassment and misunderstandings when I have tried to discuss some of my pecadillos, over a nice cold glass of sauvignon on my straight mates' patios.

They say 'the personal is political' and I'd say the opposite is also true: 'politics is personal'. My politics separate me from some of my closest friends and potential 'comrades': people who on the outside look just like me, whose resumes would read like mine: white, middle class, heterosexual, feminist, left-leaning. But it sometimes feels like there's a chasm between us that will never be crossed. I don't even try to have the discussions because I know where they would lead. But I know from their comments and throwaway remarks, that most of my straight feminist friends don't share my interest in supporting transwomen, or sexworkers, or people (including me) who wish to enjoy pornography without feeling dirty or ashamed, or people (including me) whose sexuality sometimes means they prefer a bit more 'slap' than tickle.

I love reading and talking about sexuality, and in this I find great solace and what? comradeship? sisterhood? a sense of belonging? I don't know. But if you like Foucault, Todd Haynes, and Del LaGrace Volcano, if you read Anais Nin and Melissa Gira, Bitchy Jones and Christopher Isherwood, there's a good chance that we will get on.

A very dear friend of mine, who does get where I am coming from, said one day 'you'd make a good lesbian'. I would that were true, but unfortunately I'd make a crap lesbian. I like cock too much. And the lovely cockerels that provide me with it. But maybe you could think of me as a gay man trapped in a straight chick's body, or a gay chick that fancies gay guys. Think of me how you like. I may be straight on the surface, but underneath I'm definitely some kind of dyke.



Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Losing My Edge

Yeah I'm losing my edge

I'm losing my edge.

The suits are coming up from behind.

I'm losing my edge to the suits and the non-doms.

But I was there.



I was there in 1979

I was there when Thatcher was still 'the milk snatcher'.

I'm losing my edge.

I'm losing my edge to the geeks with the i-phones whose footsteps I can hear

when they walk into starbucks.

I'm losing my edge to the internet seekers who have 4,000 songs on their i-pods

the hipsters who wear suits for their day jobs

I'm losing my edge.



To all the kids who can't remember John Major: with his underpants outside his trousers.

I was there in 1992 when he was superman.



I'm losing my edge.

But I was there in 1983 when Michael Foot preached socialism,

and some of the kids still listened.

I was there in 1986 when Red Wedge played Birmingham Odeon.

Billy Bragg and The Communards, paying tribute to El Lissitsky.

I was the kid with the back-combed hair and the CND badge,

singing along to My Ever Changing Moods with The Style Council.

I was there in 1987 when Kinnock fucked it up

By kicking out Militant and LPYS, the socialists, the cool kids and me.

But I was there.

I've never been wrong.



I used to march on Whitehall,

I remember Bruce Kent and Tony Benn.

I taped General Public's benefit for the miners at Birmingham University

I went to Glastonbury before anyone. I saw Ian Dury and the Blockheads there.

I woke up with a hangover in Sheffield in 1997 .

Blair was staring with his wild eyes and grinning: 'Things Can Only Get Better'.



But I'm losing my edge to richer, better-groomed people with no ideas and no talent.

They tell me they are really, really nice.

But I don't believe them.

I remember the Falklands. I remember the Gulf War. I remember Afghanistan and Iraq.

I've never been wrong.

I'm losing my edge.



And I was there in 2001 when I gave up on politics and turned to music instead.

Suddenly I was hanging out with the the cool kids.

I listened to Original Pirate Material in my bedsit in Meersbrook.

I argued with my friends about'Stories from the city, stories from the sea'.

I said it could never be better than Rid of Me. I've never been wrong.

I saw Pulp's farewell gig at Magna in Rotherham.

Jarvis was God for one night only and we all missed the tram home.

I saw Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at Brixton Academy,

I saw Low and The Dears and Ambulance Ltd. I thought I was in New York.


But I'm losing my edge.



I hear that you and your crew have sold your decks and bought i-pods

I hear that you and your crew have sold your i-pods and bought decks

I hear that everybody you know is more powerful than everybody I know.


But I'm losing my edge.

The suits are coming up from behind.

It's 2010 and I don't know what's hip anymore.

When I was a kid I knew the words to The Internationale.

Now the kids quote Justin Beiber as if he was Gramsci.

I still have The Pixies, Bonny Prince Billy, Gillian Welch, New Young Pony Club, Le Tigre,

L7, I still have Blondie and LCD Soundsystem, The Beat, Hot Chip, Lambchop, Jens Leckman.

It's 2010 I'm not going to vote.

The hipsters in suits have got blood on their hands.

You don't know what you really want.


Saturday, 3 April 2010

A Resurrection

When you came to after the operation, you looked just like a newborn baby. Your hair was plastered to your face with sweat, as if from the heroic exertion of pushing your way out of the womb fully grown. So what if the blue nylon hospital gown made an ill-fitting swaddling robe? Or if the drip by your side was pumping you with morphine, not milk? I wanted to hold you in my arms all the same as if I'd delivered you myself. Some midwife I would be, though - all I could do on this joyous occasion was to sit on the side of your bed and weep.

I thought that the Easter story was all about how Jesus suffered and died for our sins, so that we could go on being flawed mortals without too much hassle. He did the hard work for us, what with the cross, and the thorns and the dying and all. According to your precious Bible (Romans, 6): 'as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in the newness of life'. But it didn't work out like that for us. Anyway, noone asked Jesus what life is like the second time round; I'm betting it isn't much fun. Nobody can erase what has gone before, not even the Messiah.

Ulcerative colitis is a bastard of a disease. I won't go into too much medical detail here. To be honest, I can't face going back over the definitions and diagnoses. Basically it involves the colon becoming infected and ulcerated so food can't be digested properly. It comes in varying degrees of severity, and in your case almost the whole damn thing had to be taken out or else you would have died. The operation that saved your life also left you with a bit of your inside poking out, pink and tender - a lonely sea anenome washed up on the beach. The doctors put it into a bag and sent you home.

This was the moment where I was supposed to rise to the occasion; to be a devoted disciple. I think Mary Magdelene would have done a better job, but I was all you could find at the time. I wanted to run. To tell you I'm sorry but this wasn't what I signed up for. That beautiful blue-eyed boy with the floppy fringe, the Bruce Springsteen collection and the love of Joyce, I want him back. Instead I bit my lip and tried to pretend it was all ok. Maybe there was something of the martyr in me after all. A martyr in a sulk. 'It's not fair!' my inner teenager cried.

Inevitably our sex life suffered. We transformed ourselves overnight, from a pretty adventurous, amorous pair, into a Victorian married couple. Lights out, barely a word from either of us. The rustle of clothes coming off in the dark. The embarrassing elephant in the room that we didn't speak of; we just heard it the slap of plastic against flesh and the slooshing of waste products inside. I think I used to hold my breath. I know I caught myself counting in my head: one, two, three, four... it never did last long before we turned over and went to sleep.

Sometimes life was kind of like how it used to be. We would drink endless cups of tea in the living room, or get pissed with your brother. I always had to shout to be heard over your voices and the wonderful but too loud music: Bonny Prince Billy, Nick Cave, Kraftwerk, The Fall. I've never met anyone before or since, that can hold forth on Derrida's theory of difference, whilst simultaneously enjoying the might of 'Leave The Capital' or 'Bengali in Platforms' at full volume. But the night can't last forever. In the end we had to make the long march upstairs to bed. Once you told me you were glad I was there, because nobody else would want you. What was I supposed to do with that? I locked it away in a box marked: 'suppress'.

We broke up. But our relationship resurrected itself, only to die again, for good this time. I'm pretty sure Jesus is living for eternity as a single guy; I don't know about you, or me for that matter, maybe this is our stint in the wilderness. I haven't seen you for a few years and I don't know how you are. When I bumped into your mate Ed at that folk festival a while back, he told me you'd had the 'reversal' procedure. I think that means you don't need a colostomy bag anymore. This worries me a little, as you could get sick again, with your insides in instead of out. But there is a part of me that is purely curious, that wants to see what your body looks like now. Is it back to its former lithe glory I wonder, are you getting the girls and the boys like you used to? Show me, I want to see! Goes my inner five-year old.

You will of course have scars. But then so do I; it's just you can't see mine. They say that even after 2000 odd years, Jesus still has marks on his hands from where the nails went in.




Friday, 2 April 2010

Crush! some random notes on desire

My first crush left me reeling like a punch in the stomach. I was fifteen, an awkward mix of mature for my age and completely innocent. Warren Chapman was a few years older. He played bass in my mate's band: 'Blind Alliance'. Tall, dark, troubled by acne, he was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. The crush began in autumn, on a coach journey to a demo in London. My friend Lizzy and I were sat at the back, playing tapes and giggling. When Mirror in the Bathroom came on, Warren turned round from further down the vehicle and asked me to turn it up. So I did and I was smitten. Later on he took off his top to reveal a red t-shirt, thinly covering his perfect torso. I thought I was going to be sick. Amazingly, over the months that followed, I got to snog Warren a couple of times. Drunk and dizzy, I was too overwhelmed to really enjoy it fully, and the next morning it always felt like it was a dream. Once he walked me home and I invited him back for coffee. He said 'no'. This wasn't like the movies. In the end, I put myself out of my misery and found myself a boyfriend my own age. He wasn't nearly as attractive as Warren, but at least I could speak to him without wanting to faint.

'Crush' is the perfect word for what it describes. It's not quite onomatopeia-but its sound is evocative of the feeling: the way your insides turn to mush and start swishing around, making it difficult to stand straight. Also in the word 'crush' lies the clue to the inevitable outcome: your hopes will be crushed; the story won't have a happy ending. But it can suggest something more optimistic: a sunny afternoon, daydreaming, youth: raspberry crush.

Crushes on people you know and have to face in your daily life are horrendous; the potential for embarrassment and pain is too great. After pursuing a number of these, long after I lost the excuse of adolescent naiivety, I can honestly say I hope I never have another one again. My preferred forms of crush are on popstars, actors, even fictional characters. They possess an unreal quality, distant, unobtainable, working their magic up on the screen or stage.
Jarvis Cocker, John Cusack, Martin Donovan, 'Mike' from My Own Private Idaho. I'm not so deluded to think these beauties will return my feelings. I love them all the more for that.

Being the type of person that has to excavate everything she experiences, I have uncovered some interesting analyses of 'the crush'. Lacan seems to get to the nub of it when he says that
'the first object of desire is to be recognized by the other. (Lacan, 1977 [1959], p. 58)' According to psychoanalysis, desire is subconscious, and is actually quite simply our need to be known (and loved). So it is kind of irrelevant whether I am lusting after Warren Chapman, Vincent Cassell or Chloe Sevigny. What I am really doing is looking for recognition of my own self, my worth, my place in this world. 'I am human and I need to be loved'. Morrissey got it.

Lacan tells us that desire is always to do with what we lack, or feel we lack. You can't desire what you already have. This I find a little bit cruel, because it goes some way to explaining why actual relationships are so difficult. I'm an expert at mooning over a half-formed figure in my mind. Faced with the flesh and blood reality of someone who loves me and knows me, and wants me to love them and know them too I buckle under the pressure. I also, sometimes, lose my mojo in truly intimate relationships. I find it a regretful irony that my ex and I probably spent more time discussing Lacanian 'desir', than we did actually fucking. I often need distance, mystery, lack, to get my juices flowing. 'I want the one I can't have, and it's driving me mad' . Morrissey got that too.

Enter The Internet, stage left. Online communities are the perfect breeding-ground for the postmodern crush. Everything I learned so carefully, from Warren, from Lacan, from my own self-analysis, I managed to forget when I first ventured into the labrynth. Virtual reality gives us that perfect heady mix of the unknown and the tantalisingly available, the distant and the intimate, the real and the imaginary. I think I have a crush on The Internet itself. One of the reasons my desires are so fuelled by online communication is that I am a lover of words. And when it's just you and someone else, typing away in your private worlds, the words take over. There's no distraction from a noisy bar, an unexpected facial expression, or someone's bad choice of jumper that day. And if the words are good then that's it, I'm a goner.

I've met a few of my internet crushes, and inevitably have felt disappointed. Not necessarily by the individuals themselves, but by the depressing mismatch between my colourful imagination and the greyer reality. These days though, my appreciation of electronic desire is a little more sophisticated. Most of us realise we are playing, exploring the creative potential of virtual reality. And I still find it quite a beautiful thing when I stumble across a fellow 'explorer' on the internet. Someone who will share their words with me, offer a sexily fragmented, hazy, unreachable image of themselves. Let me get to work with my romantic, inaccurate, inventive imagination. I've got a bit of a crush on one of them at the moment as it happens. I wonder whether I should ask him back for coffee. I'm the one holding the keyboard so I call the shots. In this mini-super 8, he definitely says 'yes'.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

I would like to be a dot on a painting by Miro

I would like to be a dot in a painting by Miro.
Barely distinguishable from other dots, it's true,
but quite uniquely placed.

And from my dark centre I'd survey the beauty of the linescape
and wonder -- would it be worthwhile
to roll myself towards the lemon stripe,

Centrally poised,
and push my curves against its edge,
to give myself a little attention?

But it's fine where I am.
I'll never make out what's going on around me,
and that's the joy of it.

The fact that I'm not a perfect circle
makes me more interesting in this world.
People will stare forever --

Even the most unemotional get excited.
So here I am, on the edge of animation,
a dream, a dance,a fantastic construction,

A child's adventure.
And nothing in this tawny sky
can get too close, or move too far away.

A Poem By Moniza Alvi

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

This is Hardcore: A feminist's journey into porn

It all started with Secretary. I was watching the film in bed one night, on my laptop. Maggie Gylenghall was bent over the desk, her pert bottom raised skywards, expectant. James Spader(so perfectly cast) did the honourable thing and spanked it to a pink, tender pulp. The next thing I knew my hand was down my knickers, and the rest is very wet, sticky, breathless history.

Why did it take me so long? I had wanked before, obviously. I'd watched sexy films before, of course. So why never the two simultaneously? The answer is short, and also long. I am a feminist, you see. I am a feminist the way many people are Roman Catholic, or Muslim, or Manchester United. I was just born into it. My Mum was a feminist, and her mum before her. I read Spare Rib when I was eight, went to Greenham when I was twelve, stormed a Pro-Life rally when I was eighteen. (I can still see the image on the screen now, a giant, pulsating feotus-'Fight Alton's Bill: A Woman's Right To Choose'. And then we were ejected from the building). But what I never, ever did, was watch porn. Feminists didn't do that kind of thing where I came from. We barely even spoke about it, except in dismissive, throwaway statements. Pornography exploits women. It sells a version of women's sexuality that is unrealistic, objectified, demeaning. It is part of 'rape culture'.

So there I was, aged 34, fricking myself off to a film about a woman who got her kicks from submitting herself to the will of a very unusual, slightly creepy, but sexy as fuck man. What did I do next? Did I rush to the internet to find 'Four Girls One Cup?' or to explore the complete back catalogue of Seymour Butts? No. Not yet, anyway. I did what I always do at times like this. I had a little think. And what I thought was this. Somewhere along the line, my beloved feminism has let me down. In theory, it has been nothing but laudable, teaching me that my body is my own, to do what I please with. That I don't have to be told by a man how to dress it, when to give it up, whether or not to use it to make babies. But feminism has also made me confused about pleasure. All those demos, all those meetings. We talked about rape, oppression, abortion, prostitution, but never about sex as fun, wanking as blissful release. What about a woman's right to cum?

A few years on, and my feelings towards pornography are incredibly ambivalent. I choose my stimulants very, very carefully, and when in doubt, I don't look. I agree with all the main feminist arguments against the industry, and I have added some more of my own (*'bareback' film companies:wtf?). I will return to what is wrong with porn at a later date. But this is a defence, not of an industry, but of a woman and her horn. You may be reading this and tutting, drinking your Starbucks cappucino, dressed in your H and M T-shirt, planning your Easy Jet flight to New York. But as soon as we consume anything, whether it is a cup of tea, or a harcore porn movie, we are implicated. We are part of 'the system'. Think about it. I did. And it has made me a better feminist, and a much more satisfied one too. Now I am off to watch the latest offering from waterbondage.com. Why not dive in with me?

Monday, 29 March 2010

Geek, C'est Chic

It seems everyone likes to call themselves a 'geek' these days; everyone on the internet anyway. But what does the term mean, and is it really chic to be a geek*?

As I write this blog, there is, somewhere in the depths of Russia, a tall, bearded 43 year-old geek by the name of Grigoriy Perelman, who is faced with a dilemma. Perelman has won the $1m Millenium maths prize, for solving the Poincare Conjecture, one of the most difficult maths problems in the world, that has been 'open' (unsolved) for 99 years. But he can't decide whether or not to accept it. He gave up the heady world of academic stardom a few years ago, and now lives reclusively, with his family. So for Perelman, accepting the prize would mean unwanted media attention, expectations and embarrassment. To think of all the i-pads and kindles he might not buy with the cash, makes one a little teary.

Is Perelman a 'geek'? Not according to the recent flood of TV shows, books, magazine articles, internet posts, tweets and blogs, on the topic. Because geek c'est chic. Gone is the time when bookworms and chess champions, with their oversized cardigans and bad hair earned the title of 'geek' (or 'nerd' or 'dweeb'). They knew it was an insult but they wore the moniker as a badge of honour. What else did they have? Certainly not a girlfriend, or a pair of converse, or a taste in macchiatos. I was in maths club at school. Yes, maths club. I knew where these kids were coming from.

Nowadays, you can't go online without someone proclaiming 'I'm a geek, me'. Over and over again. Geek blogs are everywhere: '7 reasons to date a geek boy', 'the chic geek* monthly newsletter:grooming tips' and 'Den of geek'. A handy venn diagram by the Great White Snark,
tells us that a geek has intelligence and obsession, but lacks the added characteristic of social ineptitude, which would make him/her a 'nerd'. The new geeks are really the archetypal 'new media' types: they have jobs involving laptops and coffee shops, they care about their appearance, their pockets are full to bursting with ipods, blackberry's, flat whites and cash.
Of course they are intelligent-that goes without saying. Well it goes with saying one word: 'geek'.

I'm not buying into the mythology. I don't think working with new technology and being permanently attached to bits of electronica make you intelligent. Or attractive. Call me old-fashioned, but my ideal 'geek' would be someone in shabby attire clinging to a dog-eared copy of Dubliners, specs misting up in the rain. I don't care if he's never even heard of Tech Crunch. Now pass me my cinnamondecaflatte, I'm going to post this baby up and tweet it within an inch of its life.

*I had the idea for this blog and title before I saw 'chic geek' newsletter

Monday, 22 March 2010

Blogging for Girls

What do Zoe Margolis, Sarah Lacy, Brooke Magnati, Charlene Li, Pip Lincolne and Julie Powell have in common? That's right. They are all well-known successful bloggers, read by millions. Most have turned their blogs into books and one has been adapted into a Hollywood film. Oh and they all happen to be women.

Sadly, it seems, Margaret Wente of Canada's Globe and Mail, has not heard of any of these accomplished women. She thinks blogging is 'a guy thing', like driving a snowmobile up a mountain 'at 120 miles per hour' is a guy thing (for James Bond maybe). According to Wente, women don't share men's urge to 'spit out an opinion about current affairs every 20 minutes'. And, as all phenomena in the (post)modern world are explained, Wente says the blogging gender divide is caused by a syndrome: 'Male Answer Syndrome'. This 'sexual' syndrome explains everything apparently, from boys putting their hands up before girls in Maths lessons (do they??) to women being quiet at dinner parties (are they??), to women's so-called inhibitions about writing stuff and posting it online.

This stunning revelation in a Canadian national newspaper must be backed up with some pretty shit-hot research and references musn't it? Well, you will be pleased to discover that yes, Margaret has done her homework here, girlfriends. She went to the trouble of rigorously asking her 'friend Sarah the other day (Sarah is 24 and several of her male friends have started blogs)'. Sarah and Margaret agree that though equally opinionated as men, women just 'aren't interested' in taking part in the 'peeing contest' that is male posturing on the blogosphere. That settles it then.

It's very tempting to dismiss Wente and her 'theory' out of hand. The women bloggers I sent her article to on twitter certainly did, succinctly summarising her ideas: 'bollocks' (@girlonetrack)and 'blah blah men are rubbish, nature/nurture will that do?' (@sarahditum) We had a laugh. Forgot about it. Went back to our...blogging. But Wente's words have got under my sensitive skin. Lazy, poorly written and generalizing they may be, but they tap into some very powerful discourses that impact on real gender divisions that do exist, in new media, in journalism, in RL (that's 'real life' Margaret dear). Wente is saying that men like to write talk and argue in a combative manner, that they do so impusively, aggressively and effectively all over the media-old and new. And women don't. This reductive stereotype of essential gender difference is infuriating and wrong. But, as with most stereotypes, there is a 'truth' to which it relates. Werte is right, there are many more men than women in highly paid news journalism jobs, including columnists and opinion leaders (some of whom have blogs). She is also right that when it comes to the comments sections on newspaper forums online, they are full of men, arguing the toss. Men's 'talk' in the media and online does hold more power, and earns more dollar, overall, than women's. Before I get lost down a 'blah blah nature/nurture' culdesac (thanks @Sarahditum!), I want to talk about this 'talk'.

I have been wandering around the 'twittersphere' recently, and reading comments sections on online newspaper pages. In doing so I have witnessed some of the difficulties faced by women who have a public and online presence. The main difficulty they face being, that they get shit from men for, well, speaking basically. On twitter for example, the TV critic and columnist @gracedent, asked why there were so few women on TV panel shows. One man responded in a very rude and aggressive manner, and when she argued with him he became more personally insulting so she ended the conversation. In another exchange, @JosieLong the comedian was harangued and personally insulted out of the blue by a man who'd seen her perform somewhere and had decided she was 'shit'. Online comments sections following articles can be just as fraught for women offering opinions and analysis. Zoe Margolis, in recent interviews about her new book: Girl With A One-track mind: Exposed, has had numerous abusive comments from men based on her open-ness about her sexuality. In a now well-documented irony, when discussing this and other issues in the Independent On Sunday, the sub-editor decided to call her a 'hooker' and now she's involved in a libel case against the paper. I am sure the women I have cited here are accustomed to this kind of hostility and are tough enough to deal with it. But that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. And for women less successful and confident, maybe young women setting out on careers in journalism, comedy or other fields involving a public persona, personal attacks from anonymous and not so anonymous detractors can put them off pursuing their goals.

A blog can be a haven for women. It is a place where you can put down your thoughts and feelings, document your experiences, and even have some control over who reads and comments on your work (on sites like LiveJournal for example). A bit like a diary. When blogs become 'successful' , read by large numbers of people, that's when they become less easy to control. The person behind the blog becomes more liable to be put under the microscope, as Zoe Margolis found when she was 'outed' as Abby Lee, author of Girl With a One Track Mind. As Zoe has said, she has on a number of occasions since her outing, sat with her finger poised over the 'delete' button of her blog, wanting to put an end to the upset and abuse she receives on a daily basis.

My research into this issue of how women who blog, tweet and post articles are treated online, has so far been minimal (though not as minimal as Wente's!) I would really like to hear from more women of their experiences and thoughts. And, I would love it if collectively women might come up with some methods for dealing with the problem, if it is a widespread one, which I have a hunch it might be. Because they may just be words on a screen, but as all women bloggers and journalists know, words on a screen can mean making a living, forging a career, keeping or losing one's sanity, privacy, sense of self. Margaret Wente is wrong: it's not 'a guy thing' at all.














Friday, 19 March 2010

10 Things I Have Learned From Twitter

10 Things I have Learned From Twitter

1)People want to connect with other people

2)Feminism is not dead.

3)140 characters is the optimum length of utterance: basically intelligent people can use it to their advantage

4)Most social interaction is a question of filtering

5)Famous people are careful what they say

6)People who think they are famous are careful who they say things to. And talk crap to those people. But the rest of us can hear you, dickbrains.

7)Art is not dead.

8)Not all publicity is good publicity

9)The UK media really should make way for information coming from other parts of the planet. And even if it doesn't I can ignore it and listen...

10)I still fancy men in glasses. Even in a 3cm2 avatar photo that only shows half their head.
What's that all about?

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Girl With A One Track Mind: Exposed
By Zoe Margolis (aka Abby Lee)
Pan Mcmillan 2010

‘Girl with a one-track mind’ first came into being in 2004, as a blog by ‘Abby Lee’, documenting her full and eventful sex life. The blog proved so popular that it was turned into a book. And that’s when the trouble started. ‘Abby Lee’ who had described her sex life in intimate and graphic detail under a pseudonym, was outed by a national newspaper as the very real Zoe Margolis. ‘Girl with a one track mind: Exposed’ tells the story of Zoe’s outing, how it impacted on her personal and professionally, and how she attempted to rebuild her life and continue to enjoy and blog about her sexuality despite the obstacles put in her way.

On one level ‘Exposed’ is an easily readable, refreshingly honest and funny account of a thirty-something woman’s sexual adventures. As such it works very well. If you pick it up feeling a little un-worldly or maybe even prudish about women’s sexuality, there’s a good chance that by the time you put it down you will be enlightened and persuaded that there’s nothing wrong with women enjoying their bodies and those of whoever they may choose to have thrust in front of them. You might even have picked up some useful tips. Margolis deftly and humorously explores issues such as masturbation, sadomasochism, experiments with same-sex sex, men’s genital hygiene, horniness during menstruation and other topics that are still left very much under-examined in our oh-so-sexualised but also sexist and censorious culture.

But there is much more to Exposed than one woman’s quest for sexual gratification and liberation. In the book Margolis documents how, until she was outed she was a runner on major film UK productions and had been developing her film industry career for a decade. The best passages of the book for me are when she describes the atmosphere of working on film sets as the only female crew-member. She had to deal with a daily barrage of sexist comments, sexual innuendo and sexual advances which to some extent she accepted as part of the territory. She describes how she developed a method of being more explicit and outrageous than the blokes so they could never intimidate her or catch her off-guard. But along with always being expected to make cups of tea at the drop of a hat, arrogant condescending actors and the extremely long-hours culture of the film business, this male-dominated, testosterone fuelled environment would have been stressful for any woman to thrive in and remain sane. When she was outed, Margolis immediately knew she would be the laughing stock of the set, and that her career was in danger. That she got sacked over the phone came as more of a shock. The film producers were worried about the effect revelations of her double life would have on the reputation, and presumably box-office returns, of ‘child-friendly’ brands such as Harry Potter.

So suddenly, the book changes from being a light-hearted ‘sex romp’ to a moving , honest and angry account of how women are punished at work and in the media for being their sexual selves. Margolis negotiates the shift in tone expertly and shows herself as a capable writer, not ‘just’ a sex-blogger. The harassment from the paper that outed Zoe included door-stepping her for photos, digging into her and her family’s personal life, publishing details of her mum’s career, and sending threatening emails. This was then followed by a stream of unwanted attention from the rest of the press and accusations, many from anonymous internet users, that her outing was part of a planned publicity campaign. Attacked by her former employer, the press, and then the internet ‘community’ which had first welcomed her, it is no wonder she felt ‘stuck in a kind of nightmare’ and narrowly missed having a complete breakdown.

Once she gets over the initial shock and sadness of her life as she knows it falling apart, Margolis manages to regain her composure and she injects plenty of humour into the tale. She describes her dad being threatened by builders for rummaging in their van, which he thought belonged to paparazzi, for example, and Zoe’s embarrassment when her mum reacts to reading an excerpt from her first book where Zoe and a man in America enjoy an intimate moment together (that includes plenty of cunnilingus) . She also raises some laughs with tales of dating minor celebrities after being outed, joined as they are in a mutual desire for privacy and no-strings sex.

The fact that Margolis is so honest about the struggle she goes through to maintain her sexual openness in the full glare of the media spotlight after having her confidence shattered, is heartening and touching. The reader is willing this story to have a happy ending. In many ways it does: in her new ‘public’ role, Zoe works as an ambassador for the young women’s sexual health charity, Brook, putting her media profile and expertise to good use. The work of organisations such as Brook is vital in a culture where young women are bombarded with sexualised images and role models, but also judged for being sexually active, when what they need is information and support.
She also mentions in the book being in talks with producers to make a film out of it, which as she said would be wonderful ‘karma’, after how badly she was treated by the film industry.

But there are clouds on the horizon. Since the second book was published, Margolis has already become engaged in a legal battle with the Independent on Sunday newspaper, who, in the headline for an article supposedly supporting her, called her ‘a hooker’ and ‘a good-time-girl turned agony aunt’. This distressing occurrence underlines why her book is so important. Women are still not able to enjoy and discuss the ins and outs of their sex lives without being frowned upon, harassed and labelled.

I don’t know quite what will come of her blog now that Margolis lives her life very much in the public- eye. She already posts much less frequently and explicitly on it, for obvious and utterly understandable reasons. But, blog or not, I hope Zoe continues her campaign for liberation from the small-minded misogyny of the tabloids, the film industry, the ‘respectable’ broadsheets and society in general. I am pretty sure she will.