“Ironically, the feminism in Unspeakable Things might just be more likely to reel in new converts than its glossier, more deliberately palatable counterparts. As a teenager, I went to an all-girls’ high school that drummed into its pupils that women could do anything. We wore purple on International Women’s Day, studied women’s history, and were presented with a parade of successful former female students. But this “girl power” feminism always felt hollow to me. It was only when I began to think about how gender influenced our everyday experiences, and saw things I had thought were personal to me put into political context, that feminism suddenly became relevant and interesting. I wasn’t drawn to feminism because people had told me it was cool; I was drawn to it because it helped me make sense of my life.”—ICYMI: here’s me talking about feminism and Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things at The Daily Beast.
“In an era in which much feminist writing (in print at least, online is a different story) seems designed to be as agreeable as possible, Penny’s unflinching politics are a breath of fresh air. Unspeakable Things harks back to the early work of writers like Germaine Greer, Shulamith Firestone, and bell hooks; to the days when intellectuals weren’t afraid to offend, or to throw ideas at the wall and see which ones stuck.”—Suffice to say, I rather liked Laurie Penny’s new book, Unspeakable Things. Review up today at The Daily Beast.
On Sunday, I attended a funeral for fashion blogs, hosted by Danielle Meder of Final Fashion fame. Fourofusgathered outside a church in the East Village, doused ourselves in sage, and reminisced on our experiences with the blogosphere: the good, the bad, and the indifferent.
For the record, I don’t think that blogs are dead, although it’s true that they aren’t what they used to be. It has been at least a year since I’ve stumbled upon a blog that has made me think, “I have to meet this person!” (I still get this feeling, but it is more likely to arise now from Twitter, or Instagram, or books, or journalism, or art, and the blogs, wheretheyexist, are more compendiums of work that has been created outline the blog, rather than the locus of creation itself.)
Earlier this year, I closed down Disqus on this blog; not because I was being inundated with abuse, but because although people were still sharing and reblogging and responding, that action wasn’t happening in the comments section. And it is true that, like Danielle and Rachel and Autumn, many people who started out blogging in order to find their voices have since found them, and turned their passions into paid careers.
I didn’t start blogging to build a writing career. I’d already been freelancing for a couple of years when I started this blog. I started posting to Tumblr because I wanted to build a community; because back in 2007, this was where all the cool kids were. Because I wanted to create a space where the people who read my paid work could connect with me as a three-dimensional human being.
The second part of that didn’t work out quite as I had planned, in part because it turns out most people aren’t interested in connecting with journalists as human beings (or at least, they weren’t back in 2007 – I suspect things are a little different now that so much content consumption happens online rather than in print). But I did find the community I was seeking, not just in the fellow bloggers who became my offline friends (among them the three ladies who attended the Danielle’s fashion funeral), but in the community of people who have read this blog over the years, who have responded to what I write with more passion, gusto and connection than the readers of most of the work I am paid to write.
I love that you guys care; and that you care about the same things that I do. I love that you reblog and respond like crazy whenever I put together a post that means something, and that you absolutely could not give a fuck when I phone it in. Your approval (or lack thereof) is a surprisingly excellent measuring stick for the quality of my work. I love the intimacy of the relationship, even if the writing in question is posted on the internet for the world to see. And as a reader, I love that blogs allow me to discover new and beautiful minds (even if I have not been discovering enough of these lately!), in a way that newsletters, however fashionable they may be, just don’t.
All of which is to say that blogging may be dead, but this blog is not. I will continue to send you missives from my heart, even if those missives don’t come as often as I would like (a girl has got to eat, and my constant writing deadlines sometimes leave me in a state of paralysed anxiety).
And if you have any thoughts on the kind of writing you would like to see on this blog - or beautiful online minds you think I should discover - please let me know. I may not have Disqus anymore, but there is always email and the ask button.
My best friend is back in New York. On Monday, we took our lunch to the park together and talked loudly and enthusiastically about everything, but mostly about her business and my work. “I love it when you say exactly what you think,” she said to me. “You should be more like that in your writing.”
It is easy for me to be direct with her. In fact, it is the only way I know how to be around her: to tell her directly what I think she is brilliant at, when I think she is messing up, which of our wide circle of shared acquaintances I think are wonderful and which I think are ghastly users. Our friendship is sufficiently secure – and free of any pretence that we are the same person in different skins – that we are able to disagree, sometimes passionately, without it threatening our connection.
And she is probably right that if I threw unfiltered opinions and bon mots at the internet with the same ease that I fling them during my conversations with her, I would have twice as many Twitter followers; that my articles would get more shares.
But you know what? I’m cool with that. That is to say, I am cool with not sharing that part of myself with the world. Because in the same way that some people believe that sex should not be sold because it is too intimate, the body too much a window into the soul inside, I believe that (some of) my thoughts are private; best saved for trusted friends. Or at least, that they are more comfortably shared in spontaneous conversation (even on stage!) than carved forever into the WWW.
And on an internet where so many people are invested in looking like the Coolest, Nicest, Most Funnest Girl Ever (or the Fiercest, Most Opinionated, Doesn’t Give A Shit About Anyone Girl Ever), I think there is something delicious about the surprise of being more fierce and more fun in person than in text.
(Besides, as a reader, I prefer writing that is searching and philosophical anyway. Which is why that’s what I try to do in my work. Bon mots are more fun in a rapid fire conversation.)
As you may recall, for the last month or so I’ve been writing Cosmopolitan.com’s Sex Talk Realness column. Each week, I interview 2-4 people on their experiences with difference topics related to sex, gender, and relationships - you can find some of my previous stories here, here, here, and here.
Over the next month, I’ll be covering sexting (I would love people who are under 25 for this one, as I’ve already got a couple of over-25s signed up), threesomes, anorgasmia (people who have trouble reaching orgasm), abortion, and trans* issues.
Can you help with any of these? Email me at rachel dot hills at gmail dot com.
Women and men, straight and queer people all welcome. Age-wise, I’d prefer you were in the general “Cosmo” demographic of 18-35 years old. And all interview subjects are completely anonymous. You will be known only as Woman A, Man B, Person C, etc.
“This first struck me as an almost hysterical overreach, but I came to see it as something else: Christian conservatives acknowledging feminism’s revolutionary potential, taking it far more seriously than did mainstream society.” Kathryn Joyce in Medium’s Backlash Book Club. (Medium)
Okay, I’ll admit it: the last time I caught a medium-haul flight, I was quietly incensed when the person in front of me put their seat back, meaning I had to either A) crick my neck for the rest of the flight, or B) put my seat back, and similarly inconvenience the person in front of me. (I chose option A.) I considered it an act of selfishness; or prioritizing your comfort at the expense of others. But it turns out that other people consider it equally selfish to be incensed by people putting their seats back, and that these two tribes of people are not-at-all-quietly getting into fights on planes. What to make of it? I could write a whole post on this very First World Problem (and will, if people want me to), but for now I will just direct you to this post on Jezebel. The comments are fascinating. (Jezebel)
And a couple of stories from me over the past couple of weeks that you might have missed: I wrote about the rise of the #bossbabe and #girlboss (the hashtag is vital) for The Daily Beast, and interviewed two women about asexuality for Cosmopolitan.
For most people who were born after 1980, there has never been such a thing as a “job for life.” Children of Reagan and Thatcher, we came of age in an era of chronic instability, where the most exciting opportunities available to us were often the ones that we created ourselves. For those born after 1990, the contrast is even starker—it’s not just a matter of no stable jobs, but in many cases, of no jobs period.
But the upsurge in entrepreneurship isn’t just a reflection of what millennial women are pushed to do. It is also a reflection of what they are pulled to do. And the flipside of neoliberalism’s freefall is the sense that anything is possible. That if you just grab hold of the right ropes and have the strength and strategic know-how to leverage yourself upwards, you will be rewarded with limitless opportunities.
Yesterday, I published my first story with The Daily Beast, about the rise of the #girlboss and #bossbabe as icons for millennial women. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve written in a while, so I’d love it if you’d give it a read. You can do so here.
When I told my friends I was going camping last weekend, they responded in a mix of amusement and horror.
“What will you do without your hair straightener?” one asked, with mock aghast. “What if a rat crawls up next to you while you’re sleeping?”
“Firstly, that’s why I get keratin treatments,” I replied chirpily. “And secondly, rats are city animals.* I’d be much more worried about one crawling over my feet on the subway than turning up in my tent. Besides, I’m only camping for one night, and it’s next to a farm house with a kitchen and running water. It will be fine. This is not an episode of Sex and The City.”
“But what will do you if you need to go to the toilet in the middle of the night and the house is locked?” And, well, my answer to that question is not suitable for publishing online. Nor is the below paragraph, but here I go anyway.
My friend was (wildly) overstating things, but she had a point. I am not known for my love of the outdoors. When I was in high school, I wrote one of my creative writing assignments about an aspiring actress who was forced to return to her small town roots after failing to make it in Hollywood. It was a satire, but the character’s behavior may have been loosely based on my own during a family holiday the previous summer. When I was 20, I turned down an opportunity to go zorbing because I didn’t want to get my hair wet. In retrospect, my hair looked like something akin to a clown’s that day anyway, so I probably should have just bit the bullet. But you live and you learn, I guess.
On a weekend trip to Bath shortly after moving to London, I met a woman who told me that she wouldn’t be able to live in the city for too long, because she needed trees. I remember thinking that I would never grow tired of the city. As for trees, wasn’t that what parks were for?
And yet here I find myself, four years later, craving time communing with nature. Hence the camping.
It’s not that I’m tired of cities, per se. I just moved to one, after all, and I have no plans to leave any time soon. But over the past year or so, I have started to feel that my desire for “city-ness” – for people, and speed, and serendipity, and frictionlessness – has been sated. That I now have so much “city” in my everyday life that when it comes to what I want to do to get away with that life, my answer is no longer “New York!** Paris! Tokyo!” but “How about we go look at some rocks?” I’ve been lucky enough over the past four years to see a lot of what Western cities have to offer. Now I’m interested in seeing the things I haven’t yet experienced.
For the record, my camping experience (brief as it was) was great. I fulfilled my dream of swimming in a river before the end of summer, and summoned the courage to jump off a waterfall. I felt a calm wash over me as I watched the river and trees sweep past me on the train out of the city. And no, I didn’t take my hair straightener. (Like I said, keratin works a treat.)
The world is a beautiful place. Here is to many more trips like it.
So, I’ve got some news. I’m going to be looking after Cosmopolitan’s Sex Talk Realness column for the next little while. Each week, I’ll be interviewing 2-4 people (women and men, straight and queer) on a different topic related to sex and relationships.
The great thing about this column is that it’s not about telling you what you do or don’t have to do in order to be “good in bed” (a personal pet peeve of mine). It’s real people, talking about their experiences and challenges when it comes to sex in a frank and non-judgmental fashion. And if you volunteer to participate, you will be completely anonymous. No names, no ages, no locations – just Woman A, Man B, Person C, etc.
I’m hoping to cover a mix of “sexy” and more political topics, starting this week withhow having an STI affects (or doesn’t) your sex life.(Please get in touch by Tuesday lunchtime if you can help.)
Over the next month, I’ll also be covering sexual piercings (clit, nipple, penis, any others I haven’t thought of), asexuality, and fisting (seeking straight and queer women).
Can you help with any of these? Email me at rachel dot hills at gmail dot com.
“I never really bought into the whole “raunch culture” narrative, but I did buy into the idea that sex was something very important. That it said something about the kind of person you were: how liberal you were; how desirable you were; how pure you were; how well you fit in with the people around you.”—
Two years ago, I interviewed the lovely Luann Algoso for my book. Now, she is interviewing me for Persephone Magazine. And reminding me that apparently we sang Hanson songs together in a public place. Totes professional.
"Fourth-wave feminism isn’t a religion with a holy book, or a club with a pledge of allegiance…" - Financial Times
There’s been a lot of talk about “fourth-wave” feminism in media over the past few months, especially in the British press, but what defines it? I think:
1/ No single voice or icon. So much fourth-wave feminist dialogue takes place on the internet, and the internet is home to multitudes of voices, all colliding with one another, debating, and pursuing different causes. This means that while our generation may produce great ideas, we are unlikely to produce a Steinem, a Wolf, or a Greer: a single iconic voice that stands for our movement and our generation.
2/ Intersectionality. Being a woman is not a single experience. Feminism is not just for white women, or for middle class professional women, and it should not just deal with its concern. In terms of our generation’s political/theoretical contribution thus far, I feel like fourth wave feminism is pretty much defined by intersectionality.
In a lot of the articles I read about “fourth-wave feminism,” though, it seems to boil down to: third-wave feminism, but with added internet! Or: zero change in what comprises feminism, but oh gosh, isn’t it great that people are finally talking about it again?
Thoughts? I’d love to hear them. Head over to my Facebook page to share what you think fourth-wave feminism is (and if you think it exists at all).
Sorry I’ve been so quiet these past couple of weeks. I’ve been working crazy hours trying to finish up a big round of book edits, turn around a long form feature, and trying not to let myself get too distracted from a potential business idea which has me so excited that it’s threatening to take over my brain. Let’s just say it’s all I’ve wanted to talk about with Mr Musings this week. (Not good when you’re on multiple deadlines!)
My silence isn’t for lack of ideas, though - I’ve got one essay post half written up in a word document, and another couple half written up in my brain. I can’t wait to share them with you soon.
In the meantime, here’s some writing I’ve enjoyed from other people over the past couple of weeks to tide you over.
Jean Friedman on the Somaly Mam affair, and the problem with basing our assumptions about the world on the most extreme, harrowing examples of an issue. (This problem exists across the board.) (Beacon Reader)
In the winter break of my final year of university, I told my friends I planned to write an essay that would “say the unsayable.” I titled the piece “Fragments of a Bulimic Headcase,” and published it a few months later under a pseudonym in my campus’s annual women’s publication, sent from a fake email address created specifically for the purposes of the submission.
If my friends ever read the essay, they didn’t know that I wrote it. At that point, bulimia was the most shameful secret I had: the corporeal evidence that the person I purported to be — fun, feminist, and effortlessly thin — was a lie. Among the smart, culturally savvy women and men I hung out with, bulimia was a subject of derision; an affliction of, as one girl I knew described it, vain cheerleaders, attention-seekers, and seriously disturbed individuals.
When I hear people say that rape culture isn’t real, I often wonder if it’s because they don’t know what it means.
Skeptics of the term seem to imagine that feminists are describing a world in which rape is not just common but ubiquitous, and in which the public is indifferent to – even endorses – sexual assault.
Plainly, these things are not true - at least, not to those extremes. As conservative commentator and rape culture dissenter Caroline Kitchens argued in a recent article for TIME, “Rape is a horrific crime and rapists are despised.” Or as Jaclyn Friedman put it in an article responding to (and rebutting) Kitchens: “What we really despise is the idea of rapists: a terrifying monster lurking in the bushes, waiting to pounce on an innocent girl as she walks by.”
But when feminists talk about “rape culture,” we’re not saying that every woman experiences rape, or that every man is a rapist (most are not). We are saying that as much as our culture professes to be disgusted by rape, there are a series of entrenched beliefs about women, men, sex, and consent in our society that serve not only to make non-consensual sex more likely, but to make us less likely to believe people, men or women, who speak out about their experiences with sexual assault. And we are drawing attention to the chasm between our response to the imagined rapist boogeymen described by Friedman, and the more complex rapists who exist in the real world: rapists who are also friends, beloved family members, sports stars, political heroes and so on.
Here is what we are talking about, when we talk about rape culture.
A culture that puts the onus on women to say no, rather than on men to establish a yes.
A culture that doesn’t take women’s “no”s seriously. That assumes that a “no” is just the first step in a negotiation, rather than a statement of resolve.
A culture that says that some forms of sexual violence are reprehensible – the aforementioned monsters lurking in the bushes – and others are a matter of debate.
A culture that determines the “legitimacy” of a sexual assault based on the character of the victim. What was she wearing? Was she drinking? Did he have an erection? Had she had sex with that person before? Had she had sex with anyone ever before? Why was she being so chatty earlier in the night if she didn’t want to have sex?
A culture that determines the “legitimacy” of a sexual assault based on the character of the accused. Is he from a “good family”? Is she good looking? Does he deserve to have his future derailed because of this one indiscretion?
A culture that teaches boys that girls need to be persuaded to have sex, and will resist at first as a matter of course, to play hard to get or to maintain their “purity.”
A culture where friends and family of survivors ask them what they might have done to lead their attacker on.
More than anything, what feminist arguments about rape culture contend is that rape is not an aberration, committed by unlikable sadists who cannot be reasoned with. (Some rapists fit this bill, but many are people you might otherwise know and like.) It is a crime that is embedded in – and excused by – everyday social interactions.
It’s easy to understand why this concept is confronting; why some people might take the idea of “rape culture” very personally. It’s not nice, after all, to think that you are part of a system that enables violence. It’s even less nice to think that you might have personally done something that might be read as violence by another person.
But ultimately, I think the concept of rape culture is empowering. Because if sexual assault is a product of culture, that means that by changing our culture, we can change the frequency of sexual assault. Not all sexual assaults can be eliminated by tackling rape culture, sure – some rapes are committed by the violent psychopaths who dominate our imaginations (just like some murders are committed by strangers, but most are committed by people the victim knows very well). But lots of them can.
"Rape culture" isn’t a distraction, or a figment of an overactive feminist imagination. It’s an articulation of how most sexual assaults really happen.
Ask Rachel: Life is not determined by who is "winning" at 19.
Georgia writes: Hi Rachel, I was wondering if you could give me some advice? You interviewed me two ago for The Sex Myth. Now I’m 19 and studying journalism at uni. But I’m struggling. It seems like my classmates all command attention while I shrink away into a corner. I don’t think they are necessarily better than me, but I constantly worry that I’m not good enough. I just feel like I’m not achieving enough. My marks are average and I feel like my writing skills are too. It’s just really plaguing my mind with all this self-doubt, and I worry that I won’t be able to survive in such a competitive industry. I know I’m young and uni is a different environment, but I was hoping you had some words of wisdom or something? Thanks for taking the time to read this.
Hi Georgia. If I could tell you one thing, it would be this: the trajectory of your life is not determined by who is “winning” at 19. It’s not determined by who is best at 25, 30 or 50 either, because the truth is that being “the best” is an illusive and temporary state. But it is especially not determined by where you are when you are 19.
When I was 19, I was shy enough that I had a crush on a guy for a year and managed to speak about fifteen words to him in that time. I didn’t know how to write a cover letter, because no one in my family had ever had the kind of job that had required them to write one. I wasn’t totally hopeless: I got good grades, started conversations with strangers in lecture theatres (I’m still friends with several people I tried that with to this day), and was just starting to strike up the courage to put myself forward for the things I wanted to do. But I don’t think most people would have looked at me and said, “That girl over there is going to be a shining success.”
It takes most people time to figure things out. And at 19, you’ve got plenty of time to do that.
So here’s my thought. Use this time you have at university to figure out what you like and what you’re good at. Stick your hand up for things. Get involved in clubs and societies. Start writing for - or running - the student paper. Apply to do work experience everywhere, and keep showing up after your tenure has ended if you have to (that’s how a couple of my uni friends got their jobs in TV). Make a podcast. Volunteer for a cause you care about. Contact someone who is running an event that interests you and offer to help them organise it. Force yourself to speak in public, even if it terrifies you, because if you do it enough, someday it won’t scare you anymore. Start talking to the kids in your class who intimidate you and realise they’re just as confused as you are. Even if they’re really good at pretending they’re not.
I say all this because the only way I have ever known to reliably build confidence is to throw myself into the deep end, and realise each time to my surprise I do in fact know how to swim. Confidence isn’t about believing that you can do everything already. It’s about trusting that even when you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll have the wits to figure it out.
And another thought: sometimes it’s nice to be in an environment where you’re average. It doesn’t have to mean that you are failing, it can just mean that you are surrounded by bright, capable people who are doing interesting things. I feel pretty “average” compared to some of the writers my age in New York, but I find that exciting, not intimidating. It doesn’t make me bad. To the contrary: it forces me to be better.
"Taken together, these images, and the stories that accompanied them, were speaking about their relationship, even if the pair themselves weren’t offering comment. And what they were saying was that this wasn’t a story about sex or scandal; rather, it was one of family, humanitarianism, and global citizenship.” Anne Helen Petersen on Angelina Jolie’s perfect media game. (Buzzfeed)
“OK, I’ll add one more thing as well, to get into why it’s so complicated. The particularity of the female version of unpopular adolescence is that you can be of no interest to the boys in your class, or the boys you like, and be just generally not considered particularly attractive, while at the very same time, you’ll be subject to copious leering, catcalling, etc. from creeps on the street. That sort of harassment isn’t about admiring female beauty at its peak, or any such nonsense, but about intimidating the most easily intimidated, which is to say girls aged, say, 10-16. So there will be this weird thing where you’re spending half the time silently mooning over the boys who like someone else, and the other half getting told “You’ve been spending too much time on your knees!” by strange men who feel the need to remark in an obscene way on your Rollerblading scabs.”—As usual, Phoebe says all the things I want to say.
“Were you dressed provocatively?” Thoughts on dealing with street harassment.
A few days after I moved to New York, I went down to my local deli to buy myself some lunch. As I waited for my food to be prepared, the man standing beside me in the queue turned to stare, his eyes fixed on my breasts as he made a strange chewing noise that made me think of Hannibal Lecter. He had no food in his mouth.
I shot him a nasty look, and shifted uncomfortably on my feet, stepping backwards so as to remove myself from his line of sight. But he continued staring, and as I waited for what now felt like an eternity for my wrap to be placed on the counter, I wavered between wanting to tell him to rack off, and wanting to vanish into thin air, cursing myself for having the temerity to appear in public as a person with breasts.
It is when I come to this part of any story along these lines that I feel the urge to tell you what I was wearing. It shouldn’t matter, of course. Women should be able to go outside wearing anything we like and not be subject to encounters that make us feel less than human.
But people do care. Last year, my feminist discussion group in London held an event on men and feminism, which at one point turned into a kind of consciousness raising session in which the women in the group shared the daily incursions sexism had in their lives with the men. I told a story about a time I had been sitting in a park, minding my own business, and an older man I had never spoken before had come up and tried to kiss me. “Were you dressed provocatively?” one of the men in our group asked me. “Yes. I was dressed very provocatively,” I replied. (It was France. In September. I had been wearing a coat. But would it have been any more warranted if I had been wearing a tank top?)
I also feel the urge to share what I was wearing when I have been subject to this kind of public harassment because it highlights the ridiculousness of the situation. The degree to which it doesn’t matter what you are wearing. The extent to which there is nothing you can wear, no way you can present yourself, and be exempt from these incursions as a person with a female body.
And yet here I am, getting through this story without telling you what I was wearing. Bravo!
Because the real point of this story is not what I was wearing, but how the experience made me want to sink into the earth and be swallowed up completely. How it made me question if I should dress differently; if there was a way I could attire myself that would allow me to walk through my neighbourhood without people staring at me or commenting on my appearance, whether positively or negatively. How it made me wish that I was stronger. That instead of being ashamed of my body for attracting this kind of attention, I could be the kind of woman who does more than deliver a withering stare. That I could be the kind of woman who tells men who treat me that way to fuck off. That I might be a better feminist.
It turns out I’m not the only woman who has these kinds of thoughts when I encounter street harassment. Last week I went to HOLLA::Revolution, a one day conference on street harassment run by the international feminist group Hollaback. I was hoping to learn some skills that would help me to respond to street harassment with more strength in the future. There had to be something more empowering than just stepping out of your harasser’s line of sight. Than pretending to be invisible. Than sinking into the floor beneath you (in your own mind, if not in reality).
But perhaps “strength” was the wrong was to think of it. I was surprised to hear Hollaback co-founder Emily May talk about how her own experiences with street harassment had chipped away at her. How like me, she had thought that maybe if she was stronger (yes, she used that word too), it wouldn’t happen to her so much. It turns out that street harassment makes all kinds of people feel smaller and more afraid. Because that is what it’s designed to do.
And like many things at the intersection of the personal and the political, it turns out that fighting street harassment isn’t so much about how sassy your retorts are, but about what we can do to create a culture where street harassment is not acceptable.
Which is precisely what Hollaback is designed to do. Users aren’t just encouraged to share their experiences with the site because it is cathartic to do so; but because sharing reminds us that we are not alone, offers a window into how other people have dealt with similar situations, and en masse, demonstrates how widespread and habitualized the problem is. In some cities, the organization is partnering with local bars and restaurants to implement policies that will allow all patrons to feel safe from harassment. Soon Hollaback will be going into schools to train teachers and students on how to address street harassment. And they are producing research and reports like this one, which looks at how street harassment impacts people differently depending on their race, class, sexuality or gender identity.
More tips on how to respond to street harassment here and here.
“Beyoncé isn’t Beyoncé because she reads comments on the Internet. Beyoncé is in Ibiza, wearing a stomach necklace, walking hand in hand with her hot boyfriend. She’s going on the yacht and having a mimosa. She’s not reading shitty comments about herself on the Internet, and we shouldn’t either. I just think, Would Beyoncé be reading this? No, she would just delete it or somebody would delete it for her. What I really need to do is close the computer and then talk back to that voice and say, Fuck you. I don’t give a shit what you think. I’m Beyoncé. I’m going to Ibiza with Jay-Z now, fuck off. Being criticized is part of the job, but seeking it out isn’t. That’s our piece to let go.”—
As a writer, one of my favourite things to do is to immerse myself in the worlds of people I disagree with. I like to explore my discomfort; to see if the experience will change my beliefs, and to learn to better articulate why I disagree with whomever I’m meeting in the first place.
In “Antiporn Land,” a part-reflective essay, part-reportage piece I wrote after attending the Stop Porn Culture launch in London back in March, I walk away achieving a little of both of those aims. The essay was published in The New Inquiry today, and you can read it here.
Re: book. I know I'm a little older and I don't know where your characters are, but it's mostly gchat, texting, whatsapp, and snapchat I use these days. My best friend lives in another state and we write letters to each other all the time (which is even more dated than talking on the phone) but it's surprisingly intimate to see the words we each took the time to write to one another. However, when we need to have a really serious discussion, like when a mutual friend was raped, we use the phone.
Thanks, Kate. And big thanks to everyone who has responded to my post about this. You all have really different experiences, which leads me to believe that teenagers still do use the phone for D&Ms (maybe less for plain old talking crap?), they just use other mediums too. And hey, I used IM and SMS back in the day too. No Snapchat, though. Not even now.
It still feels like there is something very adolescent about these long, meandering phone calls. Like it belongs to that time of life when your life is deeply enmeshed with those of your friends, and you’re all trying to work through things you haven’t yet gotten your head around – so there is so much to say. But maybe you also don’t yet have the freedom to actually just go hang out with your friends whenever the emotional urge calls, so the phone (WhatsApp, Snapchat, etc…) is where a lot of the big stuff plays out.
When I was in my late teens, I used to call my closest friends every night. Sometimes for up to four hours, we would laugh, share secrets, shed tears and let our days unfurl in the retelling.
We used the internet, too – using the online chat software of the day to flirt, exchange witticisms, and bare our souls. But it was the phone that took precedence; which was the medium by which you could measure who were your closest friends. They were the ones who, are Marlene Dietrich put, “you could call up at 4am.” Or call at 8:30pm and keep on the line until 1.
It seems invasive now; this idea of dialing somebody’s number and demanding they talk to you, for hours on end. I wonder how we found the time. I wonder why we didn’t just go to a café or bar and talk there instead.
It also seems thoroughly unmodern. People talk on Gchat now, you see (which also feels pretty invasive to me, which is why I am perpetually on “invisible”), or Whatsapp, or Snapchat, or Instagram, using text and images rather than their voices. I don’t think this is something to mourn, or something that lacks intimacy – don’t get me wrong. I just think it’s different. And it’s interesting to me, because it seems to have changed in such a short period of time.
I’ve been thinking about this recently because I’ve been playing around with a work of fiction; about two girls in their late teens, and their easy, intense but brittle intimacy. And I so badly want to lay them down on their beds, phones pressed to their ears and legs raised up against the headboard, talking about everything and nothing the same way my friends and I did when we were that age. But in order to do that, I would need to set the book ten years ago.
Does anyone talk on the phone anymore? Like, for fun rather than because they want to urgently apologise for running late, or talk through one of those work problems that can only be dealt with through conversation?
I talked on the phone almost daily up until around four years ago, when I left Australia. My best friend in Sydney loved the phone; she would call me at all hours to talk about the things that were sending her crazy, the latest gossip, or just to shoot the shit. And I would do the same, calling her to share news that was at once deeply important and horribly banal.
I would not call someone without warning anymore. I would text them first, and ask: “Can I call you?” Or, you know, see them in person.
So, these 19-year-old characters of mine… would they talk crap on the phone sometimes too? Or does that all take place on Gchat now?
“COMPLIMENTS THAT AREN’T ABOUT PHYSICAL APPEARANCE
1) You’re empowering.
2) I like your voice.
3) You’re strong.
4) I think your ideas/beliefs matter.
5) I’m so happy you exist.
6) More people should be listening to what you have to say.
7) You’re a very warm hearted person.
8) It’s nice seeing such kindness.
9) You’re very down to earth.
10) You have a beautiful soul.
11) You inspire me to become a better person.
12) Our conversations bring me a lot of joy.
13) It’s good to see someone care so much.
14) You’re so understanding.
15) You matter a lot to me.
16) You’re important even if you don’t think so.
17) You’re intelligent.
18) Your passion is contagious.
19) Your confidence is refreshing.
20) You restore my faith in humanity.
21) You’re great at being creative.
22) You’re so talented at ____.
23) I don’t get tired of you the way I get tired of other people.
24) You have great taste in ___.
25) I’m happy I stayed alive long enough to meet you.
26) I wish more people were like you.
27) You’re so good at loving people.”—Dream TED talk comments. (via expresswithsilence)
I’ve been thinking a lot about this “Confidence Gap” thing that has been getting a lot of press over the past couple of weeks, based on a new book by American journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. I’ve read the critiques; chiefly that it ignores the structural factors that contribute to inequality (and confidence gaps), like sexism. And racism. And that while the authors managed to find a suite of high profile women who were plagued by self-doubt, there are also plenty of others who are out there getting on with things. Confidently.
All this is true. But I still think the confidence gap is real. Or to be more precise, I’ve observed a pattern amongst women – friends, family, women I meet at professional gatherings, even myself at various points in my life – of understating our achievements and ambitions which I find both disheartening and exasperating.
I’m talking about things like not pursuing (or not taking, when offered) a problem because you figure there’s probably someone in your workplace who deserves it more. Feeling too afraid to speak up in class for fear of seeming stupid, and then getting higher grades than 90% of your classmates. Not confirming with your employer how much you’ll be getting paid before you start a job because you don’t want them to think you’re “only there for the money.” Or just not talking about your work with complete passion and conviction because you don’t want to seem arrogant.
I could go on.
(And no - ceasing these behaviours won’t bring about total gender equality or world peace. But I suspect it would make us all a bit happier and more confident in our place in the world. And that’s reason enough to pursue it, in my opinion.)
The excerpt in The Atlantic only talks about women, but I’d be willing to bet the same pattern applies to any group that doesn’t have a history of easy, non-problematic access to power. People of color. Working class people. People with disabilities. Trans and genderqueer people.
Confidence alone won’t change that, and nor will getting more girls to play sports. That requires policies that enable social mobility, like good and affordable education, a liveable minimum wage, and non-discriminatory employment practices. Even bridging the confidence gap and learning to own our ambitions and abilities isn’t just an individual endeavour. It requires changing the culture. But changing that culture is something we can all participate in.
The first step is to give other women permission to own their accomplishments. To stop asking, “Who does she think she is?” – either by implication, through your tone and body language, or literally, after she leaves the room. Become comfortable with the idea of women taking power and being secure in it, without it rendering them “pushy,” “vain,” or “not a team player.”
The second step is to allow yourself to own your accomplishments. I’m not talking about exaggerating, or making shit up. I’m talking about talking about something you’re proud of, directly and confidently, and resisting the urge to downsize, hedge or backtrack. About stopping making yourself smaller in a desire to be liked. When you’ve created something you think is great (a song, a product, a test result, an interaction with another human being), give yourself a moment to enjoy that feeling before you start second guessing all the ways in which it isn’t so great.
I don’t buy into the idea that in order to be a supporter of women, you need to support all women. Some women will do work that is offensive or mediocre, some women will trumpet accomplishments that don’t exist. But there are probably some people out there you think are doing great work. Celebrate them.
Women are taught to be modest and accommodating; to have humility and to make room for others. These are (mostly) lovely qualities to possess, but it possible to have humility and still to own your own strength.
In fact, it might be better for the greater good if you do.When you dismiss your accomplishments as just plain luck, you pull away the ladder for others to follow behind you, whether you mean to or not. How can others replicate your success, after all, if you don’t share how you did it?
To end with a quote from Marianne Williamson: “Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. … As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
“The most popular kids were not necessarily the best looking or the best dressed or the most snobbish or the least studious. In retrospect, it seems to me that they were popular for much more honorable reasons. They were attuned to other people, aware of subtle social nuances. They projected an inviting sexual warmth. Far from being slavish followers of fashion, they were self-confident enough to set fashions. They suggested, initiated, led. Above all … they knew how to have a good time.”—