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Women’s History Month

Originally posted on A Room of Our Own

Today is the start of Women’s History month.

We have one month of the year to celebrate and acknowledge the achievement of women, past and present, and to try and maintain a media focus on women’s issues.


Making history does not always have to involve grand, earth shattering changes. It can also be the kind of low level, consistent work undertaken by women in order to make the world around us better for women. We are all making history in our own ways. Sometimes it’s a big difference, but more often it’s a small difference that we don’t always know we’ve done.


Much of feminism is focused on smashing patriarchy; dismantling the structure of society that defines women as ‘lesser,’ and maintains us in a position of unequal power.
Regardless of your own methods of doing this, there are millions of women out there, taking patriarchy down bit by bit.

They do it by demonstrating against injustice, campaigning for equality & parity in education, employment, starting petitions to force governments to listen, actively pushing and shouting for change. They are making history.

There are women who work in sectors where they support women directly. Challenging the patriarchy by encouraging and empowering women to say ‘No.’ To say, ‘I want more.’ Supporting women in the community, through mental health services, through social care, through education programmes. They are making history.

There are women out there who work on helplines, in women’s centres, rape crisis centres, counselling, coaching, listening.
Women who dedicate their lives to other women.
The women who are burnt out and exhausted, but still carry on because if they don’t, who will? They keep going because women need other women. Women need to know there is someone out there to listen and believe them. They are making history.

There are women who write blogs about the issues facing feminism. The domestic abuse, the victim blaming, pro-choice, anti-rape campaigns.
Women raising awareness of objectification, sexualisation, sexuality.
The women who are writing about politics, the disproportionate number of women affected by the welfare reforms, the impact of austerity on women and children, the issues facing working class women, women of colour, intersectionality and the lack of representation in the media. They are making history.


The women who write poetry for women, books for women, music for women.
The women who are mothers, raising the next generation to do better.

All making history.

One day, years – maybe centuries – from now, women will read about us, learn about us, be inspired by us. We are making history right now.  So let’s celebrate us, because we are all those women working to make the future better for the next generation.

Thank you for all you do to make your corner of the world a better place for the women of today and tomorrow.

NB: Thanks to @FabFitzy for the inspiration!

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Letter to my 21 year old self

Today I found my diary from 1989.
Reading it, I finally saw how far I’d come, and how much I’d achieved. Within the year I would be married with a baby, and I was nowhere near mature enough to do either. I used to wonder why no one stopped me but then, remembering who I was in 1989, no one would actually have stood a chance at talking me out of either.
I had reached a stage in my life where I thought I was slowly recovering from my childhood and adolescence; both of which had been difficult and traumatic. I was out most nights, on the piss with a group of friends I have no contact with now.
My wages were earned doing a dead end job I detested. I wanted to be someone different. Someone interesting, clever, important.
I wanted to escape from home, from a family that seemed to either dislike me or be indifferent to me. A family who didn’t understand me at all. I didn’t look like a girl, I didn’t look how they wanted me to look.
I had a crew cut, boots, jeans. I was aggressive and mouthy. I drank pints at a time when women didn’t really (at least not in my town). I was obsessed with music and politics, looking for something I could align with, identify with and be part of. I had spent most of the 80’s fighting. On picket lines, on demos, in pubs. I was always angry, and that anger was my friend. It kept me alive and proved to me that I could feel.
Reading through my diary, I was transported back through time to the me at the end of the 80’s and it didn’t feel good. All the pain, anxiety and feelings of being lost came flooding back and I wanted more than anything to go back and tell that young woman just how much life will change.
So here it is.

Dear Cathy
I can see you really clearly in my mind and you are not at all how you think you are.
Firstly, you weigh about 10 stone and you think you’re fat. You’re not, and even if you were, it’s ok. You think you’re ugly and you dress to cover your body up but you don’t really know why. You will remember one day soon and it will be a difficult time. But you will survive. You are afraid and fearful of men and no wonder. Your last relationship did a lot of damage – both physically and emotionally – and although you took the blame for what happened to you, it wasn’t your fault. It was his choice to behave like that. It was his choice to hit you and hurt you. You are not to blame.
Any minute now you will bump into the man you will marry. It won’t last but it doesn’t matter. He’s a kind man and he will always be your friend and support you when life gets tough.

Remember how you wanted to be a social worker? Well you will be. You think you’re not clever enough to go to college and university but that’s only because your whole life has been full of people putting you down. You are clever enough and you will qualify and do a job you love. Believe it or not, you will go even further than that but I’ll let that be a surprise.

Ok, you know that feeling you have? The one where you don’t quite fit in with everyone else, the one that makes you feel abnormal and weird, the one that tells you to keep trying to conform? Don’t worry, one day you will let those feelings out and be yourself. You will meet a woman who fills all the gaps in your life. Someone who knows you without you ever saying anything. You will be happy and have a home filled with laughter and joy and warmth.

Your mothers still around I’m afraid but you are so much braver now. You don’t let her bully you anymore and you can cope with her appalling viciousness because you have someone else fighting your corner. You won’t change the way she sees you so stop trying.

You will get pregnant next year and have a baby who grows into a clever, funny, kind and wonderful man. You will be a great mum. You think you won’t, but you will. Your capacity for love is so much greater than you think it is. You aren’t ruined or broken, you are far stronger and more resilient than you ever dreamed.

Keep your head up and remember, everything passes.
Good luck.
Cath.

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A Gathering of Feminists in the North East

My name is Catherine and I’m a radical feminist. I love women’s spaces, I love being in the company of women and I love debates about feminism.


I became aware of, and involved in feminism in the late 70’s and early 80’s when the second wave had reached it’s peak. The events around that time were radical in their approach and often consisted of a very DIY approach to organising. Despite this, there was a sense of sisterhood and safety that I felt at home in.

Women’s conferences and events seemed to disappear in the 90’s and feminism became the code word for angry, second wave dykes who burned their bras and hated men. Liberal feminism was never for me really. I’m not a feminist who thinks every woman’s choice is a feminist choice, and I’m not the type who thinks men should be involved in the movement. Far from it actually. For me, men have no role in the liberation of women.

This weekends North East Feminist Gathering in Newcastle was an eclectic muddle of noise; laughter, anger, tears and cheering. It was a riot of colour and sound with a workshop line up that met the needs of every woman there.
The NEFG team had just lost a much loved and valued member of their team and watching them put their grief aside to ensure the event went well was awe inspiring. The resilience and warmth coming from those women filled the room and kept the energy levels buzzing.
I spent much of the first day either close to, or in tears. Emotion was never far from the surface and it didn’t take much for it to bubble over. It took me a while to work out where that was all coming from and I finally realised that it was relief.

Relief at being with women I trusted.

Relief at being in a safe space.

Relief at being able to be me and for that to be ok.

Relief at being able to relax and not have to watch my back, my behaviour or my drink.


It was a reminder to me of the value of women only spaces. The value of just being with women, which is often overlooked and undermined. Dismissing women only spaces as exclusive, or unnecessary, or divisive is just another way of trying to prevent us from sharing experiences and speaking out. Keeping women apart means abuse continues in secret. The need for women’s spaces to debate issues that matter to us is hugely important. In a women’s space you can share experiences and emotions and feel safe. In a women’s space you can opt in, opt out, cry, scream and make connections with other women that last a lifetime. Or five minutes.

I felt a strong sense of loss as I drove away from Newcastle, having been in the company of women who are working to make a difference. I met women who were politically opposite to me, women who campaign on issues that I disagree with, women who represented every aspect of feminism. There were traditional feminists; the hairy, man hating ones, women in full make up and heels and women who disagreed on a number of issues. But all of them debated and argued respectfully and there was an implicit agreement that, as women, we will support each other anyway.

I will take away from this weekend the feeling of safety, a feeling of belonging and a feeling of intense connection.
Thank you to the NEFG team for their hard work, commitment and passion.

You made a difference. Not just to me, but to over a hundred other women who’s lives have been altered for the better because of this weekend.

I can’t wait for next year.

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Online abuse & dudes

It’s 11.30 on a Saturday night and I should be doing something other than what I AM doing. Cos what I AM doing is trying to get Ask FM to block my user name. Easy right?
Nope.
Since about 5.30 this evening I have been bombarded with Ask FM questions to other, unknown recipients but with my name @ed in. Such an easy way to send abuse. You can do it anonymously and no one needs to know who – or where – you are. Brilliant.

This is not a new thing. Over the past few months many women on twitter have been on the receiving end of this kind of abuse. Some have protected their accounts so they don’t see the tweets, some have ignored them, some have shouted about it and raised concerns with Ask FM.
None of those approaches have worked particularly well as the abuse continues.
I find it interesting that, in amongst the sexually graphic and explicit messages I’ve been receiving, have been some tweets from men – who don’t follow me – accusing me of being a victim.
Well, yes. A victim is someone who experiences a situation without their consent or participation. Of course that makes me a victim. But I suspect their point is that, because I speak out about feminist issues, and issues that directly affect women – like male violence – I have attracted this attention and therefore can only blame myself. And any perceived victim status is self inflicted and up for discussion.
In what world could you think that speaking out against injustice and inequality gives people free reign to send you abuse?

I get plenty of ‘usual’ abuse. Y’know, the gendered, homophobic type. If I say anything about domestic abuse of women, within 10 seconds I get a tweet to remind me that, “it happens to men too.”
If I tweet about male violence in general I am pretty much guaranteed a tweet to let me know that, “we’re not all like that. Don’t blame all of us.”

All of that is pretty sigh inducing but par for the course.
But there are some (let’s, for the sake of argument, say ‘people’) who take great delight in laughing at women who experience online abuse. They find it funny and like nothing better than to tell us why we deserve it and what we should or shouldn’t do to stop it. And in a lot of cases, they feel that, the minute you tweet out to say you’ve been on the receiving end of abuse, you become an attention seeking drama queen who is being paid for every tweet you send.
Well, we all seek attention. By sending me a tweet telling me I’ve just made myself a victim, you are seeking attention. You want me to respond so you can get off on the fact that you’ve pissed me off.
But listen fellas. No one really wants attention that badly. I would much rather have spent my Saturday evening doing something far more enjoyable than trawling through twitter abuse. Honestly.

So here’s a bit of unasked for advice for you. Shut up. Stop stalking the timelines of women who couldn’t give a shit about you or your opinions. Go and talk to people about how online abuse is a ‘bad’ thing, rather than how the women shouting about it are at fault.
I couldn’t care less who you are or how many women you’ve got in your life who think you’re a great guy.
Chances are they don’t.

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If It Was You

If it was you. You receiving dozens and dozens of rape and death threats.
You receiving constant messages of abuse.
You being told you’re a whore, a slut, a spik bitch.
You being told to shut the fuck up.
You being told you were going to be strangled, drowned, burned alive, cut into pieces, raped in front of children.
If it was you being bombarded for a month with the vilest pictures, messages, blog posts, YouTube clips.
If it was you who opened mail from men who hate you addressed to you at your parents house.

Would you cope with daily life?
Would you carry on going to work, seeing friends, having fun with your partner and family?
Would you sleep well at night on your own?
Would you jump at the sound of the phone or the door?
Would you feel sick with dread and anxiety when you logged on to twitter?
Would you accept it as part of life; just the trolls, just some silly people on the Internet who haven’t got anything better to do?
Would you agree with the people who told you to stop feeding it? Stop reporting? Stop highlighting it?
Would you feel supported by the those who shrugged and told you to ignore it?
Would you be glad that people went out of their way to tell you that you mustn’t get angry or upset about the constant barrage of abuse?
Would you be pleased that people took time to tell you how you could handle it better?
Would you agree that it’s better for those people to come and tell you where you where you were going wrong, rather than target the abusers?
Would you like it when people sighed and called you an attention seeker for speaking out?
Would you sit quietly and let other people tell you what to do without hearing you?
Would you be calm when you receive your 50th tweet advising you on your language?
Would you feel safe knowing you’ve reported everything to the police and they haven’t investigated properly?
Would you stay quiet?

Would you??

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When I was 16… (TW for graphic violence)

The below is a post I wrote for my dear friend @cateleven who kindly hosted it as a guest post on her own blog: One Dames Thoughts
I am truly grateful to her for allowing me that space as it was the first piece I wrote.

When I was 16 I met a boy.
I had a traumatic childhood full of separations, losses, abuse & pain.
I had difficult relationships with my family. My step father had died a few months earlier & I was lost, out of control & vulnerable.
I was in trouble at school, with the police, drinking heavily and generally very angry.

This boy made me feel loved.
And wanted, special, cared for. It was like I’d finally found someone to care for me. A teenage romance but it was everything to me.

It didn’t take long for the abuse to start.

It began with subtle suggestions about the way I dressed.
Then my personality, I needed to calm my attitude down abit. Maybe it was the friends I had, better to not see them probably.
Within a few months I only wore what he liked & spoke only to people he approved of (and I mean LITERALLY only spoke to those people – I had a list). I became quieter, more withdrawn, more jumpy.

I was so frightened of him that I actively avoided people who I knew he didn’t want me associating with. I lost all my friends and was completely isolated. He made me leave my job to work in a factory across the road from him, he told me he would kill me if I left him and I believed him.

And then the physical abuse started. We were walking through the city centre one night after seeing a band and I made a comment about the lead singer that he didn’t like. He hit me so hard I fell on the pavement. I was shaking but didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t run anywhere. He took me home and the next day turned up at work telling me how sorry he was and he would never do it again.
Of course I believed him and of course that wasn’t true.

The next twelve months were horrific. I had so many injuries I struggled to hide them. And the more he did it, the less I resisted. He knew I wouldn’t tell anyone so he got brave. He beat me up in the street, he dragged me out of a pub by my hair in front of people who all looked the other way, he repeatedly punched me in the head and on my ears til they were black.
I was repeatedly raped. Not just in the house, but in the street – wherever he chose.
He made me leave home and go and live with him and his family. His father was equally violent towards his mother and she once told me, “the trouble with you is you keep opening your mouth. Keep it shut and it won’t happen’
I knew this wasn’t right but felt helpless and powerless to do anything and I felt it WAS my fault. He told me often enough.
Eventually he went too far. He beat me up outside my mums house and tried to strangle me. I passed out and when I came round I realised someone had dragged him off me and called the police. I was taken inside my mums house and, bleeding, battered and terrified, was then told by the police officer that they were considering prosecuting me for breach of the peace. Their reasoning was that there had been other (many, many other) incidents of violence and abuse and I had done nothing about it.
They didn’t do anything in the end, but they also didn’t arrest him either, this was the days when this kind of thing was simply, ‘a domestic.’

I found the courage from somewhere to end it. But he stalked me. He slept on the end of my road, I had to sleep downstairs on the settee with the front door barricaded with planks of wood. He caught the same buses as me, waited outside my work morning and evening, if I went anywhere, he was there.
I stopped going out, became withdrawn, anxious, fearful of everything. It took years for me to carve out a life away from him.

He terrified and haunted me for years. Up until about four years ago believe it or not.
New Year’s Eve 2009. I was out with friends in my local and in he walked. One of my friends (male) said, ‘please don’t let him spoil your night’ and in that moment something clicked.
No I fucking wouldn’t. I was suddenly angrier than I had ever been in my life. He had made my life hell for over 25 years and it was going to stop. Now.
I waited til he went outside for a smoke and I followed him. I stood next to him and simply said, ‘if you ever come near me again, I will fucking kill you. Do you understand me?’
He looked at me. And nodded. He could see I was serious.
I felt as though I had just set myself free. It was over. He was nobody, a bully who chose vulnerable women to control.
And you know what? I didn’t forgive him and I haven’t forgotten. It’s part of who I am. I’m still angry but it’s easier to manage now.
But his legacy is still around; anxiety, hyper vigilance, fear of being in a relationship, needing to placate, fear of raised voices, fear of disagreements, anxiety about alcohol, always searching for sub texts, always looking for potential flashpoints, fear of asserting myself in relationships, watchfulness & always needing permission to do something alone or with friends.
Unfortunately it wasn’t the only abusive relationship I had either.

I now have a partner who doesn’t try to control me or physically abuse me. Someone who cares and listens and understands.
So I win.

Thank you for reading and thank you to Cat for allowing me the space to write. This is the first time I’ve told this story and there is a lot missing as you can imagine.
I am grateful to the women who have given me my voice back & created a space where I can tell my story.

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Put up and shut the fuck up

Day after day after day.
Abusive messages, rape threats, threats of violence or death.
Sexist remarks, cat calling, insults shouted out of car windows, ‘compliments’ shouted in the street.
Sexually explicit comments and suggestions in pubs, in bars, in cafes, in clubs, at gigs, in the street.

Women are battling all the time to cope with it. To cope with the fear, the dread, the anxiety and panic it causes us. Trying not to internalise the insults, to remain calm & not blame ourselves. To not believe what they say, to convince ourselves that it’s not true, that no one is really coming for us, no one would do that. Would they?
But they do.
We are stalked, verbally abused, beaten, smacked, punched, slapped. We are harassed, groped, pushed, pulled, cornered.

Women are so tired. Tired of putting up with this. Tired of ignoring it, minimising it, laughing it off, pretending we don’t live in a frightening place all the bloody time.

We’re tired of risk assessing. Checking where we park our car, checking if it’s safe to walk along the road, checking who’s around, who’s behind us, in front of us.
Can we go for a run? Will we get harassment? Can we go for a drink? What shall we wear that doesn’t draw attention to us? What shoes shall we wear in case we need to run?

It’s constant. Every bloody day. A never ending stream of shit.
Women are stupid, brainless, worthless, inadequate, unimportant, useless.
Women can’t do maths, are no good at science, don’t have logical brains, don’t understand politics or economics, can’t talk about football or sports.
Women are good for cooking, cleaning, giving birth, looking after kids.
Women are good to look at. Breasts are there for groping (don’t breast feed in public), bodies are there for shaming.

But it’s ok. If you’re on twitter, use the block button. Lock your account.
Facebook? Block. Go private.
Don’t use Ask FM, don’t give your email out, don’t use forums where men might target you. Don’t encourage them, don’t give them an excuse, don’t let them hurt you.
Report it to the police. They’ll help. But they don’t. We don’t get help or support or taken seriously.
“Nothing we can do. You need to protect yourself.”
So we don’t report it. And it goes on.

Don’t run at night. Don’t run on a main road. Don’t go for a walk on your own. Don’t wear anything that might instigate abuse. Don’t make eye contact. Watch where you’re going, head down. Avoid places or situations where there might be drunk men. Drive with your doors locked, don’t stop for anyone. Make sure you have enough petrol. Keep your phone charged.
Sit near a door, keep your car keys handy, make sure there are no barriers to you getting away. Don’t walk home alone. Don’t catch a taxi you don’t know.
Don’t challenge, don’t argue, don’t raise your voice. Watch your language, your manners, your attitude.
Shut the fuck up.

Don’t drink too much, don’t leave your drink where you can’t see it. Don’t eat too much. Maintain your figure so it’s pleasing to men. Don’t have your hair too short in case people think you’re a lesbian.
Be feminine. Wear make up & pretty clothes. Smile. Don’t be angry.
Enjoy sex, but not too much. Don’t refuse sex. Shave your body hair. Everything must be smooth.
Don’t be sexy. Except when they want you to be sexy. Pose in your underwear to show how empowered you are. Celebrate your body; as long as your body fits the patriarchal fuckability test. Over a size 14? Shame yourself. Cellulite? Shame yourself. Don’t go to the gym? Why don’t you look after yourself? Don’t you care about your appearance? Tone up for summer! Tone up for the beach! Lose weight for Christmas, New Year, spring, summer, autumn. Lose your baby weight! Follow X’s diet! Lose weight fast!
Because you’re just not good enough as you are.

How dare they do this to us? How dare they police us, and shame us and dictate to us?
HOW FUCKING DARE THEY??

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Misogynist; a person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women

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Dr Christian Jesson, of ‘Supersize Vs Superskinny’ and ‘Embarrassing Bodies’ fame, is known amongst the feminist groups on twitter as someone who often tends to tweet out opinions based on ignorance and sexism, rather than medical science or research. He has been criticised several times for the lack of responsibility he takes with his shows. For example, he doesn’t accept that the topics of his programmes will have any repercussions or effect on those with an eating disorder.

(@thus_spake_z has blogged about it here )

A brief overview of Dr Jesson’s views on women indicate to me that he is, at the very least, sexist.

He believes that women should think carefully about breast feeding as it ruins the shape of their breasts.

He thinks that women should only be allowed a Caesarean Section in an absolute emergency.

He thinks that women should shave their body hair to make them more attractive to men.

And on it goes.

This is a man who, I assume, isn’t without brains. He has trained as a doctor after all. But of course, being able to memorise science and pass exams is not necessarily an indicator of intelligence.

To tell women that breastfeeding ruins the shape of their breasts is damaging and body shaming.

To tell women that they should not elect to have a Caesarean unless their life is in danger is irresponsible and potentially dangerous.

To tell women to shave their legs implies that body hair is disgusting and unattractive.

To tell women they need to shave in order to be more attractive to men denies women the agency to choose a partner, reinforces a hetero-normative lifestyle and ignores a whole other variety of sexual relationships. Given that he is a gay man this is particularly puzzling. It also reinforces the perception that women are decorative. We have no brains, no value or currency other than our bodies.

And this brings me nicely on to today’s issue. Last night Dr Jessen had a debate on his twitter timeline about banning Page Three, and compared it to the way that women ‘objectify’ men. He didn’t think that there was any difference between Page 3 and Heat’s Torso of the Week that features the bare chest of a man.

 Obviously, being a doctor does not prevent you from also being an utter dick and having no concept of structural oppressions, institutional sexism, structural misogyny. What is surprising is that when Dr Jessen trained to be a doctor he wasn’t made aware of the human body. A man’s naked chest is not the same as a woman’s. If this was the case then surely women would sit topless outside the pub on a sunny day? Unfortunately, if we do this, the police get called (don’t ask me how I know this…) and we are forced to put our clothes back on. Why? Because women are sexualised and objectified, and the true purpose of our breasts has long been dismissed in favour of the sexual gratification of men.

I, and several others, felt that this needed challenging and I admit, I wasn’t particularly polite about it. I get very tired of seeing this kind of nonsense spouted by men who don’t seem to be able to grasp that women are not there simply for their pleasure. It happens a lot on Twitter, and better women than me have been faced with the most horrendous abuse which goes relatively unchallenged and unchecked because, y’know, it’s just the internet. It also came on the back of Nick Ross and his appalling interview in the Mail on Sunday where every bloody sentence contained sexism, misogyny and rape apology. So forgive me, but I really wasn’t in the mood to tolerate more shitty opinions on women’s bodies by a man who has significant form for being a dick.

What happens when you challenge a celebrity on twitter with 250,000 followers?

He patronises you, calls you a ‘girl’, re-tweets you and ensures that you are inundated with loads of his fans telling you what a disgrace to womanhood you are. And, in true internet style, along came the swathes of men to hurl some gendered insults at me – a selection of which are below:

“you are a deluded slag” “man hating extremist” “a disgrace to women everywhere” “need a good shag” “clearly been rejected by men” “scared of the penis” “get back to the kitchen” “too ugly to be considered a sexual object” “a moronic attention seeker.”

 And from women?

“dividing the movement” “a whiny bitch” “no wonder you’re gay” “a nutter”, misandrist, “stereotyping men” “bitter” “men and women are equal so grow up”

“unladylike”

 My tweet suggesting he was misogynist, patronising and showed a lack of respect for women to call us ‘girls’ led to an endless supply of tweets from women saying how much they love being called a girl.

 Dr Jesson admits that he prefers Caitlin Moran’s style of feminism. This is no surprise.  It’s not threatening to his position and many men feel that Caitlin is a better figurehead for the feminist movement than some of the more vocal feminists. And that’s usually because men hold positions of privilege and don’t want to give them up, but can happily pronounce themselves as ‘feminist friendly’ because they like Caitlin Moran. This kind of opinion is transparently fake to any woman who cares to look, as it simply pats women on the head and declares equality has been achieved.

Dr Jesson doesn’t seem to like women much.

He certainly doesn’t like being challenged by them. He fat shames, body shames, targets women for twitter abuse, reinforces patriarchal norms of attractiveness and beauty, uses gendered insults and patronises women. He has also dismissed research and evidence that suggests teenage girls are suffering from low self esteem because of the pressures of media images of the ideal body shape.Is Doctor Jesson a misogynist? Make your own mind up.

 

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Mourning Margaret Thatcher

I remember the school bus driver telling me that Margaret Thatcher had won the election.

I was only 12, and fairly unimpressed by her achievement in becoming the first woman PM. Politics wasn’t widely debated in my house as it was considered bad manners. Therefore I had no real political allegiance to speak of yet.

Fast forward three years to 1982 and I was now politicised. I had met people who had different views to the ones in my home, I had discovered Billy Bragg, The Redskins, The Jam & The Clash.
I started to learn about ‘The Left’ side of politics. The debates, the theories and I felt at home with the values I was uncovering.

Fast forward again to 1984. The Miners Strike is in full flow and Nottinghamshire is hit hard. A division between the NUM and the NCB meant that Nottingham was torn apart.
It was my first real introduction to hard core Left politics. I’d been to Greenham Common the year before and been threatened by soldiers and verbally abused but I was with women so it felt safer.
This was different.
As a 17 year old supporter of the Militant Left I was angry, fuelled by Marxism and the righteous fury that comes from being a politicised teenager. I had the political fervour and passion of the newly initiated, the newly recruited and I shouted the words of the just.
I stood on picket lines, secondary picketing, embroiled in disputes with the police, shouting at Scabs. I collected money in a bucket, and food donations.  Families were starving and needed support.

The strike ended, leaving the worst scars imaginable on both the county and the country.

But there were other battles still to be fought.
This was the era of the Cold War and membership of CND was a pre-requisite for any self respecting Leftie.
More strikes followed. I was union steward at 18, on every demo and march possible, Rock Against Racism, Anti-Nazi League, fighting injustice at every corner, fighting to right the wrongs of the government.
Thatcher loomed large all through the 80’s.
As a woman, I struggled. How could I be a feminist and not support her? How could I be a woman AND support her? I was surrounded by men who despised her, mainly for her policies but also because she was a woman. Nevertheless, I accepted this because I didn’t understand misogyny in those days. I had rejected what I considered to be ‘feminine’ wearing only jeans, t shirts and boots. Shaved head and badges; the stereotypical Lefty activist.
And I fought. Physically and verbally. With anyone who disagreed with me. If I happened upon a Tory I couldn’t stop myself. I hated them with a passion that hasn’t much dimmed.

The Left was my first home. The space where I first felt a sense of belonging and freedom. In hindsight, of course it wasn’t freedom. I was bound by doctrine and the views of men came first. I knew my place and it was to agitate, educate but not really organise.

But we were united against the enemy. We knew who we hated and we knew why. We knew what we wanted and we knew (we thought) how to get it. The Left could mobilise well. The working class were under attack as Right Realism took hold. The age of the Individual was upon us and we fought to unite.
I lay in a hospital bed clutching my newborn son as I heard the news, ‘Margaret Thatcher has resigned.’ I had waited for this day but, with a new baby, nowhere to live and no idea how to change a nappy, I had more pressing issues at hand.

The last gasp of the Left came with the death of John Smith. We knew Kinnock would never make it, he didn’t have what it took and expelling us from the party meant that he divided the working class for nothing. The 1992 election was one of the most depressing, sad days of my life. I remember my husband coming up to bed at 4am and waking me up to say, “we’ve lost again. It’s over.”
And he was right. The brief burst of hope provided by John Smith was snuffed out as quickly as it arrived, and we followed the rise of Tony Blair with trepidation and rising fear.
1st May 1997 – the Left breathed its last and slipped quietly away.

Margaret is dead. But her legacy will live longer than I will. The damage is too serious to ever reverse now and we are caught in an ever expanding loop of welfare reforms, pushing the divide between rich and poor ever wider.
Would a hard Left leadership been better? I would like to think so although the ability of the different factions on the Left to actually communicate and work together would not leave you with much optimism. To this day the SWP and the SA  will not support one another in Nottingham.

April 8th 2013 is a day I’ve waited for. I’ve placed illegal bets most years on whether this year will be the year and never won. I thought she would never go, that she would live forever and we would never get the opportunity to celebrate and unite again. But she has and strangely, I feel abit lost. Thirty years of hatred, and now she’s gone I don’t quite know what to do.

So I’ll just say thank you. You gave me a home. You gave me values. You gave me a sense of unity with comrades. You gave me political debate and experiences and made my life take a very different path.

Goodbye Margaret. Thanks for the memories. May your soul forever be in torment.

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