Ambling down the road outside the hotel, having a last fag before bedtime, and I see legs. There’s a bloke standing behind those overhanging bushes. Swivel on my heel, natural as can be, because my intention, obviously, was to walk precisely that far then march smartly back to the hotel. Contemplating the fact that I only noticed me doing that because I’m at a feminist conference this weekend, and issues such as how women automatically live on the defensive the whole time are front-of-mind.
To slip over the edge
Would be like
To carelessly write
Over the edges of this paper.
– Emma Humphreys
As I walk up the path to the hotel door, now on ‘safe territory’, I become sure that bloke was just a bloke, having his last fag before bedtime, just like me. I try to remember if I have this problem at home – have I ever been ‘on my guard’ outside my home during a last-fag-before-bedtime meander? Panic raises its head and asks if it’s needed, as my mind bumps and flumps between night time moments outside everywhere I’ve ever lived, and I can’t actually put my finger on where I live now.
Within these four corners
And sharp pointed edges
I shall contain my composure
Using available ink.
– Emma Humphreys
I don’t often think I’m going mad, because the concept has never made much sense to me but there you go. I do occasionally wonder if I’m drowning in a storm with my feet on dry land. I remember at the last feminist conference I went to, Dr Jessica Taylor telling us about ‘borderline personality disorder’, and how that would appear to be the establishment’s current best stab at explaining the state of women reacting to a lifetime of being used and abused.
This blog post I am writing is here to recommend to you the book ‘The Map of My Life’ by Emma Humphreys, but also to be careful when, where and how you read it. The mission – the mission of women like Harriet Wistrich, Julie Bindel, Dr Taylor and many others – is to break through and explain to the world that those women – the trafficked, the prostituted, the products of dysfunctional families – that the ‘crimes’ of those women should not be judged, as courts have judged in the past, against ‘what would a reasonable man do’, they need to be judged in the understanding that just about every woman who ends up in court via ‘the sex trade’ is behaving as you would expect a chronically mistreated and traumatised person to behave, if they are a person who knows of no direction home, whose life has given them no way to distinguish between a new friend and the next tormentor.
It is brilliant, the way this story, via Emma’s writings and poems, and commentaries by her friends and legal team, is presented so that it gradually unfolds for the reader how women like Emma might appear at first glance, what they might tell you, and what truth might begin to appear when you find a way to see it. It was the attempt to digest that crystalising knowledge that caused me to forget where my home is, outside that hotel that night. It was not a nice feeling. Please read this book, please do – but not when you’re tired, or easily frightened. (It’s like replacing the cover on a duvet – easy, as long as you’ve been warned to get a firm grip on the corners before you start thrashing around).
And now that I’ve found
Just where my borderline lies
I shall search for nothing more
Than the freedom to feel and write.
– Emma Humphreys
The lines I have reproduced here are from Emma’s poem, ‘The Borderline’ which appears in this astonishing and important book.
Find out more about Emma Humphreys at Justice for Women.