Book reviews Politics Uncategorized women

How are your borderlines?

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.

activism Book reviews book shops Politics Uncategorized women

Really useful feminism

Why we should all read Julie Bindel’s new book

I’ve been wondering why feminism grabbed me so much the second time I looked, but not the first.

I remember feminism going on around me when I was a teenager. I had a vague idea it involved a lot of arguments about whether you should shave your legs or not. A couple of decades later, my daughter told me she’d had the impression for years that she couldn’t be a feminist because she likes dressing up, cooking and being a mum.

In the 70s, I couldn’t do feminism because I didn’t like dungarees. In the 80s, I couldn’t afford the ‘power dressing’ and then in latter years, I thought I couldn’t be a feminist because my partner was a bloke, and because the ‘feminists’ I saw on telly all seemed to spend their time making pointlessly rude and embarrassingly flirtatious swipes at men. And anyway, those somewhat boring organisations like the Fawcett Society and Labour Women’s Network were constantly bashing on about whether female execs in London were earning enough tens of thousands more than me, yet.

And then Stonewall tried to get women’s legal rights repealed. A new kind of women’s campaign (new to me) came along. I was so angry, so involved, and so excited, talking to so many great women, helping to put together ideas for the Women’s Place UK manifesto, getting involved with the Women’s Liberation Conference, and to top it all, I’d discovered FiLiA, with its glorious weekend every year of women singing, women cooking, women dancing, running businesses, making friends, building communities and doing politics, women escaping and traveling the world as fugitives, then coming together at last, singing, cooking, dancing, making friends, running businesses, building communities and doing politics.

People ask why women get so ‘obsessed’ with the sex based rights campaign, why we never ‘come down off it’. Well you know, there’s more to it than that. For those of us who were relatively new to feminism, the women we met on the way told us about real feminism, and Woman’s Place, and all the other organisations the benighted like to call ‘anti-trans hate groups’ set women’s worlds on fire. It’s VERY exciting. (Apparently, last time around they called the women’s groups ‘anti-men hate groups’.)

Read Julie Bindel’s REALLY exciting new book, and discover proper feminism. As she explains, the stuff that went mainstream – liberal feminism, they call it, IS boring. Radical feminism isn’t feminism only more so, it’s the growing, sustaining root of feminism. In manifestation, it’s any aspect of feminism that’s not acceptable to the establishment.

We don’t want half the seats at the table,’ says Bindel, ‘we want to break the table.’

Feminism is about rescuing and standing with fugitives, it’s about learning and teaching, about fighting back, about community politics and addressing the problems that are so big mainstream politicians barely dare touch them.

Buy the book, go to FiLiA. Get angry, get serious, get excited. You can sing, dance, make friends, dress up and cook as you go if you want to. You can also make up your own mind as to whether you shave your legs or not. You decide, it doesn’t matter – but you might have some interesting conversations over coffee about why mainstream society thinks such things matter so much.

Just read the book, in fact read all her books, and her journalism. I am!

Video: Julie Bindel in conversation with Claire Horchan

The book…

activism Politics Uncategorized women

The women are back in town

On Monday, I went to a meeting in London. I have set out, four times in the last two days, to do a write up. Each time, I went into high-energy, high-speed mode, and ended up with half a dozen pages of what was mostly a rant aimed at my CLP, and other organisations that claim to know the meaning of solidarity.