*Guest Post; Woman On Fire*

Our 14 year old, Cait, went to the Edinburgh Festival and wrote this review of CC Theatre Company’s production of ‘Woman on Fire.’

***********************************

This week, I’ve had my first taste of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. 

One of the highlights was the performance of Claire Moore in Women on Fire. This was an original play, telling the story of the suffrage movement seen through the eyes of Edith Rigby. 

The performance was an incredible portrayal of the battle for women’s right to vote through Rigby’s eyes, reminding us of the sacrifices and harms the women fighting for universal suffrage had to endure. It was packed full of facts and information. It was incredibly well done and really didn’t sugar coat what happened in this woman’s life – she was an arsonist, bomber & jujitsu-trained militant Suffragette who spent time in prison, because of what she believed in! The writing was incredible and had an exceptional range of quotes and facts. 

Claire’s representation of Edith Rigby was fantastic and brought to life the mild mannered doctors wife with a secret identity. It’s a reminder of where we have come from and how far we still have to go. 

It’s a ”must see” if you’re heading to #EdFringe this year.

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Academia and Class Politics

I’ve not felt this working class in a long time. For working class, read inferior/not up to standard/not our sort – delete as applicable.
Applying for a funded PhD is a fairly painful process at the best of times. Even applying for one that you self-fund is a trial. But without your own secret stash of cash, it can be a valuable lesson in class politics. 

Class politics. You know, the social class system that doesn’t exist anymore because the Tories got rid of it and made us all equal? Or maybe it was New Labour. I forget now. I was probably cleaning toilets or doing some woman’s ironing for a shilling or something working class like that at the time. Busy making myself equal.

Anyway, why should applying for a PhD have anything to do with class politics I hear you ask. 

Mek a brew, duck, an ah’ll tell ya..

When I did my undergrad degree in the 90’s I had a small son, and worked at Asda in the evenings. My degree results were unremarkable. Not because I wasn’t clever, but because I entered university on a wing and a prayer, with no real understanding of what was required of me and with no knowledge of academia. It took me until the third year to finally work out how I was supposed to write, and realised that no one actually gave a shit what I thought; just my ability to paraphrase someone else’s. 

My marks were generally rubbish due to my ignorance of what academia required of me, a demanding small child and a night job in a supermarket. 

I came out with a 2:1; marks dragged upwards by a generous final year history lecturer who quite liked my roughness and lack of polish.

I skipped out of university clutching my degree certificate and headed straight for Income Support (as it was then). No job, and no real hope of one. Apparently I had done the crappest degree in the history of degrees, and also, just getting a degree didn’t make you any better. What was I thinking? 

Fast forward past a few years of Toys R Us, the aforementioned cleaning and ironing, bar work and other assorted shitty jobs, and I found myself working in Social Services, having blagged my way into a job by dint of knowing someone who knew someone who knew something. I turned out to be pretty good at the job and was encouraged to go on and do my social work training.  

I duly applied, got an interview where I was stroppy and bolshy; a reaction to the rarefied atmosphere and surroundings of a red brick, and bafflingly, they offered me a place (I think it was recruit a poor person week). 

My background really started to show here. I was in a university that prided itself on its calibre of students. Unlike my last uni (which was an ex-poly and felt like it) this was a “proper” uni. The lecturers were most certainly middle class. They spoke nicely, they enunciated and they had last worked in social care about a hundred years ago. I rapidly understood the concept of imposter syndrome and the impact of feeling so inferior made me argumentative and rude.

My accent stood out against the more modulated tones of my fellow students and I was considered “scary.”

Whilst I flew through my placements, and excelled in direct work, I floundered in the academic writing. Again. 

I struggled to grasp what it was they wanted from me. They didn’t want the reality of working in child protection services. They wanted an obscure, parallel world of unlimited resources and effective interventions. I resisted and argued and challenged but eventually realised I was in the minority.

Against the odds, I passed. Just. My results weren’t great, but again, I’d worked all the way through the course and my son was still here, still needing food and shelter and general care. As kids do. I was negotiating a postgrad course with the school run, homework, activities and the general grinding hard work of motherhood.

I had struggled through two university experiences. Through sleepless nights, through the mopping up of sick the night before an essay was due in. Through the patronising comments of, “gosh. I don’t know how you manage” from fellow students and lecturers. Through the slight comedic value of talking with an accent and being outspoken. Through the precarious balancing act of being a mother, working in shit jobs and trying to get a university education that would take me and my son on to better things. Which it did. Eventually. After I’d crippled myself with debt, over stretched myself and worked endlessly to pull myself out of poverty. I was still ignorant of how the middle class world functions but you don’t know what you don’t know, and I thought I’d cracked it.

Fast forward again. Twenty years or so after my first degree I still feel working class at heart, but recognise that my career trajectory of social worker, lecturer, trainer, occasional writer has lifted me into the next class category. I was a home owner, civilly partnered, grown up son, decent car and money in the bank for a holiday.

Then disability struck. I lost my career, became dependant on benefits and lost my ability to use my brain effectively. I became a scrounger. The lowest of the low. No longer middle class, not even working class really. Just poor.

As I learned to manage my chronic illnesses, and slowly began to accept my limitations I realised that I could do something. I could do a PhD. I knew there was knowledge still in there, and I knew I could contribute something.

As I merrily applied for as many funded PhDs as I could; history, sociology, social work, criminology, I swiftly realised that I wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t enough to spend hours writing and rewriting a proposal until it read like an academic piece. It wasn’t enough to have years of work experience in a relevant field. It wasn’t enough to have ex colleagues and friends cheer me on and write brilliant references for me. What mattered, it appeared, were the grades I got for a degree I took in 1993. And no one gives a shit why my grades were a bit crap. No one’s interested in what it took for me to get through two degrees. No one gives a toss how bloody hard it was to keep going when I could easily have thrown the towel in and carried on working in a supermarket. 

They don’t care because they don’t need to care.

All they want is your money. And if you haven’t got any money, then you need to be exceptional. First class. Distinction material. 

And I’m none of those things. I’m average. Overwhelmingly so. Which is fine. I know I’m not a brilliant academic. But I do have something to say about class, about women, about motherhood, about inequality. But no one really wants to hear it because even at the age of almost 50, I’m still working class. Still below standard. Still not quite good enough. Still not fitting in. Still not quite there.

And that, my friends, is why social class never, ever goes away. You can polish up, and get your certificates but the minute you open your gob to tell them what you got for an essay on Narcissism you wrote in 1995 you’re sunk. 

#GE2017

If you’re wobbling, or unsure who to vote for, here is a handy guide….

If you’re disabled, vote Labour
If you know someone who’s disabled, vote Labour 
If you care about disabled people, vote Labour
If you’re on a zero hours contract, vote Labour
If you’re on minimum wage, vote Labour
If you’re unemployed, vote Labour
If you’re working full time but still need benefits to survive, vote Labour
If you have children, vote Labour
If you’re concerned about class sizes, vote Labour
If you support teachers, vote Labour
If you’ve ever had a child weeping over SAT’s pressure, vote Labour
If you’re frustrated by the constant meddling in, and changes to the curriculum, vote Labour 
If you would like your children to be able to go to university and not be in debt, vote Labour
If you believe that big business should not be allowed a monopoly, vote Labour
If you’re outraged that certain companies are allowed to get away with not paying taxes, vote Labour
If you believe in a democracy which taxes the rich to support the poor and aims for equality and fairness, vote Labour
If you are sick and tired of shoddy rail networks and crap services, vote Labour
If you think Kier Starmer will make a better job of Brexit than Boris Johnson, vote Labour
If you think that food banks are unacceptable, vote Labour
If you believe that everyone should have enough to eat, vote Labour
If you think that children should not go to school hungry, vote Labour
If you believe in a social care that has the staff to do its job, vote Labour
If you are horrified by the lack of care and consideration given to our older generations, vote Labour
If you think that no one should have to lie in their own urine for hours at a time because they can’t afford to pay for personal care, vote Labour
If you have elderly relatives and you want them to be cared for by well skilled, well paid, qualified staff, vote Labour
If you want a well funded child protection service that is efficient, caring and able to actually support families, vote Labour
If you would like families living in deprived and disenfranchised communities to be supported and assisted to have better lives, vote Labour
If you live in a community which was devastated by Thatcher, vote Labour
If you think Hillsborough was a disgrace, vote Labour
If you believe Orgreave deserves a full enquiry into state sanctioned violence, vote Labour
If you believe the Working Class have been let down, ignored, ridiculed and abandoned, vote Labour
If you believe that the media is biased towards the Conservatives and big business, vote Labour
If you think our media should be properly regulated and offer factual, balanced news, vote Labour
If you think the financial crisis was caused by the banks, vote Labour
If you believe the banking sector should be regulated and monitored with strict boundaries so they are unable to be reckless with our countries money, vote Labour
If you believe everyone has the right to a home, vote Labour
If you think having to sleep in doorways is wrong, vote Labour
If you believe in social housing, vote Labour
If you believe in workers rights and protection from exploitative employers, vote Labour
If you believe that people are entitled to a decent pension in their old age, vote Labour
If you believe that people with disabilities – physical and mental – deserve to be treated fairly and sensitively, vote Labour 
If you think that 16 year olds should be allowed to have a say in their own futures, vote Labour
If you believe in a welfare state that supports you from the cradle to the grave, vote Labour
If you have ever used the NHS, vote Labour
If you have had to stay in hospital and seen first hand the pressure nursing staff are under, vote Labour
If you go to your local A&E and see sick people waiting for hours to be seen or lying on trolleys in corridors because there are no beds, vote Labour
If you believe in a health service that is free for everyone, vote Labour
If you know that more investment will make the NHS work more efficiently for us all, vote Labour
If you don’t want a government that make arms deal with Saudi Arabia, vote Labour
If you believe that a better way of dealing with conflict, war and terrorism is sitting round a table and TALKING, vote Labour
If you don’t want a prime minister who is happy to nuke the planet, vote Labour
If you want more investment in the armed forces so we can intervene fairly and with some authority, vote Labour
If you think fox hunting is cruel, unnecessary and blood sport for the upper classes, vote Labour
If you want a government who commits to a greener future, vote Labour

If you are someone who has a good, well paid job, a nice house – maybe no mortgage – kids at private school and money in the bank, then read the above and think about this;
You are one of the few, not the many.

You have a responsibility to offer a hand up to others and not kick the ladder away and leave the many at the bottom.
VOTE LABOUR

ToryVoting

Choose no life

Choose no job

Choose no career

Choose an education you can’t afford

Choose payday loans and debt collectors
Choose crumbling communities, destroyed industries and boarded up shops

Choose poor health

Choose overstretched and underfunded NHS care

Choose letting your teeth rot because there’s no NHS dentists left

Choose low rent, damp and run-down houses.

Choose benefit sanctions

Choose food banks

Choose racism, hatred and division

Choose austerity measures with corrupt MP’s and the tax-avoiding big businesses

Choose election fraud and expenses scandals and waking up in despair on a Sunday morning.

Choose sitting on the couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, filled with a furious rage at how your life has been manipulated

Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in an underfunded nursing home with care staff on zero hours contracts, nothing more than an embarrassment and inconvenience to the selfish, fucked-up MP’s you voted for.

Choose no future. 

Choose the Tories

The Twelve Days of Twitter Feminist Christmas

On the 1st day of Christmas Twitter gave to me;
a row with Owen Jones

On of the 2nd day of Christmas Twitter gave to me;
2 twitter trolls
and a row with Owen Jones

On the 3rd day of Christmas Twitter gave to me;
3 mansplainers
2 twitter trolls
and a row with Owen Jones

On the 4th day of Christmas Twitter gave to me;
4 whiney dudes
3 mansplainers
2 twitter trolls
and a row with Owen Jones

On the 5th day of Christmas Twitter gave to me;
fiiiiive MRA’s
4 whiney dudes
3 mansplainers
2 twitter trolls
and a row with Owen Jones

On the 6th day of Christmas Twitter gave to me;
6 victim blamers
fiiiiive MRA’s
4 whiney dudes
3 mansplainers
2 twitter trolls
and a row with Owen Jones

On the 7th day of Christmas Twitter gave to me;
7 Twitter storms
6 victim blamers
fiiiiive MRA’s
4 whiney dudes
3 mansplainers
2 twitter trolls
and a row with Owen Jones

On the 8th day of Christmas Twitter gave to me;
8 not-all-men-are-like-that,
7 Twitter storms
6 victim blamers
fiiiiive MRA’s
4 whiney dudes
3 mansplainers
2 twitter trolls
and a row with Owen Jones

On the 9th day of Christmas Twitter gave to me;
9 contested women’s spaces
8 not-all-men-are-like-that
7 Twitter storms
6 victim blamers
fiiiiive MRA’s
4 whiney dudes
3 mansplainers
2 twitter trolls
and a row with Owen Jones

On the 10th day of Christmas Twitter gave to me;
10 I can’t even’s
9 contested women’s spaces
8 not-all-men-are-like-that
7 Twitter storms
6 victim blamers
fiiiiive MRA’s
4 whiney dudes
3 mansplainers
2 twitter trolls
and a row with Owen Jones

On the 11th day of Christmas Twitter gave to me;
11 pompous journos
10 I can’t even’s
9 contested women’s spaces
8 not-all-men-are-like-that
7 Twitter storms
6 victim blamers
fiiiiive MRA’s
4 whiney dudes
3 mansplainers
2 twitter trolls
and a row with Owen Jones

On the 12th day of Christmas Twitter gave to me;
12 fuck you, bitches
11 pompous journos
10 I can’t even’s
9 contested women’s spaces
8 not all men are like that
7 Twitter storms
6 victim blaming hashtags
fiiiiive MRA’s
4 whiney dudes
3 mansplainers
2 twitter trolls
and a row with Owen Jones

Women, We’re Sorry…

*see below for update*

 

There’s a woman you may know, knocking around feminist circles. She’s funny, entertaining & charismatic. You know the one; always ready for the craic, always has a kind word to say, happy to take the men on when they find their way into our twitter feeds. So far, so lovely.

But (and its a big but), this woman has something to hide, and we’re all helping her do it. She slides into your private messages, on Twitter or Facebook. You share a joke, have a bit of a giggle, criticise stupid men, moan about work, your kids, & rail against male violence.
The messages increase, she builds your confidence. You’re friends, right? You can tell her anything. So you do. You tell her things you don’t usually talk about. You share your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, experiences. She understands – sometimes she tells you that she’s been where you are. She’s been you – she gets it. You open up to your lovely friend, who messages you a lot (and I mean A LOT).

 

As you share confidences, she tells you about her need for special friendships. She tells you she’s tired; she wants to have deep and meaningful friendships with women, not just superficial online ones. You connect. You start to develop feelings for her, and she feels the same. You arrange to meet up.

 

When you meet, she reminds you of all the things she knows about you. How connected you are, but how she finds it so difficult to emotionally connect.

She tells you about a couple of previous women she’s been involved with. She discloses the abuse they put her through. She describes how they preyed on her, how they sexually assaulted her, how much they have damaged her mental health.

 

You understand because this has happened to you as well, although it’s usually been men who have damaged you. You empathise. You look at these women in a different light and detach yourself from having contact with them. You know she appreciates your support.

 

She tells you that she’s never met anyone like you before, you’re a shining light in her life. You laugh together, she cooks for you. You take selfies and enjoy your special time together. You have sex*.

 

Let’s keep this special thing to ourselves, she says. Let’s enjoy it without anyone intruding, let’s have fun without anyone making assumptions about us, let’s treasure “us”.

 

“Us”, you think. Us. This woman really gets you, you can’t believe your luck – things have been shit for you, recently. It’s fine not to want everyone to know everything about your life, people can mind their own business.
So you keep it quiet, hugging your secret to yourself.

 

Then, something feels off. She’s quiet, not so many messages. You ask her what’s up, worried about her mental health.

 

Little do you know that there’s another You. In fact, there are loads of You’s. Many women, all having the same experience as you, all having messages and phone chats and long email conversations and meals cooked and sex and massages and baths when the sun goes down.

 

She didn’t tell you about the other You’s.

 

She didn’t tell you about the other secrets.

 

She didn’t tell you that text was from another woman, the one she’s meeting next week.

 

She told you that email was from her boss, not from the woman who stayed last week, who spent all night crying as this woman ignored her messages.

 

She didn’t tell you that she’d use the things you told her, against you.

 

She didn’t tell you that she’ll make a complaint to your boss if you try and expose her.

 

She didn’t tell you that she’ll take the piss out of your good nature, and then shit all over you without a second thought.
She did tell you that women wouldn’t believe you.

 

She told you that you’d be isolated from your friendship group.

 

She told you that we would make sure that you had no one and nothing.

 

She told you that specific women, us in fact, would turn against you. That we would always take her side, always believe her over you – and in some cases, we did.

 

So this blog is an apology.
If you told us about this woman and we didn’t believe you, we’re sorry.
We completely and utterly fucked up and we are very, very sorry.

 

To the women she’s currently preying on, we’re sorry that we haven’t warned you, but we know you’ll not be able to hear us anyway.
We hope your friends support you & help keep you safe.
Please take care of yourself, don’t keep secrets and whatever you do, don’t lend her money.

 

If you’d like to talk about this, please email me;
(planetcostello @ gmail.com), rather than using the comments.

 

*I said sex here, but you know you wouldn’t have consented if you’d known the whole story.

 

If you need support, please contact http://rapecrisis.org.uk/.

“I’m one of the women affected by this blog post. I can’t even begin to describe the damage that this woman has done to me. She targeted me from the start, making me feel special, different. I feel completely stupid now but I thought she was such a good woman, we all did. 
She got me to trust her and tell her all the things I would normally keep to myself. She told me she understood what I was going through and that she had been through the same kind of heartbreak. 
I’ve spoken to other women she abused now, women she had told me were predators themselves, and I’ve found out she told them the same about me. 
We always say in feminist circles that ‘I believe her’ but she made it clear that no one would believe me. I was left alone to try and deal with the damage she caused me whilst she carried on doing her best to isolate me from the networks we shared, dripping poison about me to other women, cosying up with mutual friends and taunting me by making innocent seeming comments where I could see them. 
It’s only now that I’ve spoken to women behind closed doors that I realize loads of us knew what she was like – we were just afraid of being disbelieved. We still are. It’s hard to believe that someone can be so cruel and vindictive whilst pretending to be your sister. It hurts more than any man’s abuse ever could.”

Women, We Thank You

We got married in May, and I think it’s safe to say that some of those we invited will no longer have us on their Christmas card list! It got me thinking about the value of online friendships, and what it means when you attempt to take some of those “online” connections into offline spaces. 
Cath & I have had an open door policy since we moved in together. We like spending time with other women, finding out about them, building on shared politics, or shared interests or similar experiences. We’ve regularly rearranged the house to accommodate women overnight (often at times when we’ve had lots of other things going on), partly to save women money on hotels & partly to pad out the foundations of friendships which have been built mainly online. 
Recently however, some of those friendships have become fractured, and some of those fractures have become chasms. 

My reluctance to ignore problems or to avoid speaking about difficult things has played a significant part in these fractures, resulting in Cath particularly feeling deeply hurt and angry – sometimes on my behalf, and sometimes because of her own pain. Cath & I show & feel pain in different ways – contrary to what seems like popular belief, we are not an homogenous morph, we are two individuals with our own beliefs, values, thoughts and opinions that combine to make us a strong couple with a deep and loving connection. My expression of pain is often (but not always) anger, and I believe that some women, who may have described themselves, and been considered by us to be close friends prior to May 29th, don’t think I feel pain at all. Not real pain. Not their sort of emotional pain, at least.  
Cath was diagnosed with a life-altering disability last year. She struggles with her energy levels & has had to step back, take time out and spend time healing her own body. Not everyone is sympathetic & understanding about this – some women we thought we’d connected with have ignored her health issues completely, and felt very angry when Cath has said “no”, or more likely, I’ve said “no” on her behalf! Some women offered unhelpful advice; “Have you thought about improving your diet? Exercising?”
“No. I’d not thought about any of those things because I am a fucking idiot.”

<sarcasm> 

So to those women – we thank you. 
We thank you if you’ve fucked us over recently, because better now than in 5 years time. 

We thank you if you claim to be our sister & yet actively seek out women whom you know have harmed us for your own approval and attention; we always knew you were shallow and now you’ve proved it. 

We thank you if you recently deliberately blanked our 12 year old child at a feminist conference, because that way she’ll find out that women are not always who they claim to be, and it’ll help her trust her instincts. 
We thank you if you’ve been welcomed in our home as a repeated houseguest, yet claim I’ve always made you feel uncomfortable and unsafe, because that means I can save my comfort and care for someone who deserves it. 

We thank you if you’ve called us names behind our back, described us as “difficult” “angry” “sanctimonious bitches” or any other phrase you may have uttered, because we know the class issue is too difficult for you to manage. 

We thank you if you’ve cut off all contact with us, after months of building a friendship, because another woman told you to.

We thank you if you’ve enabled other women to steal or appropriate our work, and have colluded with women to ignore requests for support with our activism.

We thank you for remaining silent when the women you’ve chosen over us continue to perpetrate abuse and harm to other women.

We thank you if you’ve claimed to be a feminist and used misogynist slurs against us. 

We thank you if you’ve claimed your own pain as real, and dismissed mine. 

We thank you for trying to discredit us and silence us.

We thank you for your breathtaking displays of disloyalty. We are pleased to know who will actually stand by us, and who won’t.

We thank you for all of these things, because what you have done is show us the opposite side of this – the women who could not have been more rock solid if they’d been made out of granite. 

Women who call us, text us, check in with us, send us lovely cards, tell us that they’re thinking about us. 

Women who don’t demand anything, who are happy to see us as two, individual women with needs & wants like all others, rather than Teh Planetz. 

Women who have been kind, and caring, and warm. 

Women who have heard us when we speak – really heard us. 

Women who have listened to our experiences & said “that sounds rubbish. Can I do anything?”. 

Women who have made us laugh, who have reassured us, women who have taken our 12 year old away for the weekend to give us some space. 

Women who have understood & respected our views on class, challenged us, accepted challenges from us, women who have contributed to that foundation building to cement our friendships. 

Women, we thank you & love you. I’m not one for Christmas cards though – shall we all just chuck some money in a charity pot rather than cluttering each other’s houses up with crappy Christmas cards? 
Send us an anniversary card though – Cath loves that sort of thing 😉
Jo