My Vulva Has Betrayed Me By Lucy Chapman

By Lucy Chapman

I love my vulva. I even like to say ‘vulva’. But my vulva doesn’t like me.

It is because of my vulva that I bore children. Wonderful, full-of-joy children. It is because of my vulva that after doing so I dropped down from being a full time secondary teacher to working three days a week.

We had a choice, it could have been my husband who stayed at home two days; I earned more than he did at the time, so it would have made sense financially, but it was my breasts which fed the babies, so it was me who went part time.

Damned breasts.

Being part time, there aren’t many positions of responsibility in a school; if you’re a Head of Department, your staff could need guidance and you’d be at Baby Song Time or as a Head of Year a child protection issue could arise when you’re at soft play / ball pool hell. It just couldn’t work.

So, as I stagnated in the workplace, I watched with pride as my husband (who worked at the same school as me) progress, get opportunities and promotions that were just not available to me. His pay was now already more than mine, simply as a result of me going part time and still the gulf was getting bigger.

As a direct result of this common phenomenon, my husband is swiftly paying off his student debt whilst I chip away £14 one month £21 the next. His pension contributions are also substantially higher than mine are now.

So, does any of this matter if we plan to grow old together and pool our income forever?

Well yes actually, it does. 

What if I was to become a single mum (imagine he had an affair or I discover he’s gambled away our life savings)?

Firstly, I would probably have to move my boys out of their school to get a more affordable home, I’d also become reliant on benefits and as a result I’d probably be labelled a ‘scrounger’ and television programmes would be made about my ‘sort’ of person.

I’d be villainised and people would wonder why I didn’t think about this before having children. I’d still be part time, so we’d struggle a little.

I’d still have a tonne of student debt left to pay and in my old age I’d be trying to manage on my meagre pension, whilst my now ex-husband joins the fancy golf club and books a cruise on his.

Women currently make up two-thirds of Britain’s poorest pensioners and changes being made to pensions (both public and state) will disproportionately affect women further still. 

It’s 2017 and in response to me querying why I’d not be getting my expected pay increase when returning from maternity leave, my boss, I kid you not, replied “it’s not as if you’re getting a pay cut”.

It’s 2017 and if my husband was beating me I’d honestly have to decide if I could financially afford to separate.

It’s 2017 and there are hundreds of thousands of mothers working part time and passing up on opportunities whilst fathers continue to breeze their way up the management ladder with the people they work with not knowing nor caring that they have children at all; it’s just not an issue. Nor should it be.

Girls have been doing better than boys in school for years yet we still have more men in management and leadership positions and there are much more male higher earners.

Only a mere 7 bosses of the 100, FTSE 100 companies are women.

It’s shameful. 

Women have been hit far more drastically than men by welfare cuts due to harsh austerity measures, a whopping 74% of welfare cuts are coming out of the pockets of women.

Women’s refuges are closing up and down the country despite 2 women being killed every week at the hands of a partner or ex-partner.

Women are considerably more likely than men to be in part time work and part time workers earn less per hour on average than their full-time peers.

65% of public sector workers are women so have been disproportionately affected by public sector pay freezes and job cuts.

I sound bitter.

I sound jealous.

I sound dried up; it’s not sexy to be overtly feminist, but is it that unladylike to want to be self-sufficient (even if from within a marriage)?

Am I that much of a bore to want a fair shot?

Is it so very unappealing to ask not to live completely dependent on another person?

It’s 2017 and my wonderful, sensual, sexy vulva has betrayed me. 

The ‘Me Too’ Movement – Some Men Claim ‘Sexual Ambiguity’ As An Excuse But I Beg To Differ By Eddie Luigi

By Eddie Luigi

This is not a blog on the male perspective of the current media storm concerning sexual harassment of women. I am a male and this is my perspective. I do not claim to be speaking for all males.

I have never assaulted a woman and all of my sexual adventures have been consensual on both sides.

Now I don’t fully understand how women  work, and I may have been guilty of misreading a situation. That said, there was never a point of no return. If the woman said no at any time in the proceedings, then no it was. I would shuffle of with my bruised ego, muttering a few choice epithets under my breath.

I may be old school ( I am 68) but I was bought up to treat women as I would want other men to treat my mother, sister, aunts or daughter. 

I am the first to admit I am not God’s gift to women nor am I a Hollywood matinee idol. 

I have always been amazed, pleasantly surprised and grateful that a woman would find me attractive enough to want to indulge.

I don’t think that because one woman would be attracted to me then all women would. 

I have never wanted to treat women as ‘hunting trophies’ and mark my progress with notches on the bed.

I do not hold with the view that if a woman gets drunk then she is begging ‘for it’. 

By that token if a man gets drunk he is begging to be buggered? Surely not?

Unfortunately these do tend to be the opinions held by some, but not all, blokes.

I have been accused of inappropriate behaviour with regards to some women. It concerns my old school upbringing, where I was taught that if a lady offered you her hand you did not shake it, with a vicelike grip until one of you blinked. 

You took her proffered hand by the finger tips and gently kissed the back of her hand. It was a mark of respect and also stopped the passing of sexually related messages with the fingers, thumb or pressure.

Therein may lie a difficulty. What to one woman is a compliment and considered to be gentlemanly gallantry, another woman will consider unwonted and unwarranted behaviour.

But some of the stories I have heard emerge  are beyond any of this that I describe. And I cannot understand how a man can claim sexual ambiguity or misreading a situation so badly that he sexually assaults or raoes someone!

I would like to see more women stand up to sexual harassment. 

One of the ways might be to boycott the perpetrator in a work environment. 

Make it clear that you will have nothing to do with the pervert, and won’t even give them the time of day. 

If they ask a question, reply through a third party, making sure the third party knows why you are behaving that way. 

It worked for the Irish against Captain Boycott (which is where the phrase originated. You learn something new everyday.

I also believe that capitulation in the face of an overwhelming superior force, should not be considered as consent.

I am who I am because I have been who I have been.

Now I did not spring from my mother’s womb into the fully formed ‘all round good guy’ that I appear to be today. Before I reached the age of 30, I was anything but.

Before I was 15 I was what would now be called a troublemaker, but was then called a gutter snipe. 

I stole, was guilty of breaking and entering, shooting at the Queens birds, shoplifting, bullying and various other crimes that eventually led to my being sent to an approved school and being given the option of Borstal or a boarding school specialising in training young thugs for a life in either the Royal Navy or the Merchant Navy.
Between the ages of 15 and 30 I was a serving member of the Royal Navy. I was what would now be called ‘one of our brave boys’, but was then referred to as a ‘piss artist’. 

While in the Royal Navy I used swear words as punctuation, I told inappropriate and politically incorrect jokes. I thought the truth was so precious that I wasn’t going to squander it by using it.


When I reached the age of 30, I thought ‘enough, time to grow up. 

When I was a child I did childish things, but now I’m a man I should behave as a man.
So I gave up lying, cheating, taking drugs and wounding people with words.

Which brings me to Jared O’Mara. 

I can’t condone what he did or said, but I can’t condemn him either. When I was in the Royal Navy if you made a mistake you were punished for it according to the severity of the action and once your punishment was finished that was the end of the matter.
I would look on Jared O’Mara as a bit of a prat for not choosing his audience. No doubt if Jared O’Mara had been a member of the Bullingdon club, his actions would have been laughed off by the Tories as youthful high spirits and he would have been helped up the greasy pole to high office.

And before the Tories and mainstream media try to gain political capital, with their screeching rants about this being a ‘Labour Party problem’ as we’ve heard the Right Wing press claim, they should look to the racist, misogynistic, elitist, aristocratic snob, who was not only their Prime Minister, but has been consistently voted the greatest Briton of all time. Winston Churchill, oh and of course the 36 Tory MPs caught up in the sexual harassment scandal.

Isn’t it about time men stop hiding behind pathetic excuses for their behaviour and started taking responsibility for their actions? It really is time for a change!
 
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#MeToo – Sexual Assault By Helen Hill

 By Helen Hill

          ** Trigger Warning **

I woke up this morning and carried out my usual morning routine of enjoying a cup of tea whilst browsing social media when I saw that #metoo was the number 1 trending topic on Twitter.

Intrigued I clicked on the hashtag to see what it was all about and it is safe to say that I was horrified when I realised that it was a hashtag to raise awareness of sexual assault. 

#metoo quite literally means “I have been sexually assaulted too.” 

To see that it was in the hundreds of thousands of tweets at 7am blew my mind and also turned my stomach because as I read through the endless pages of women and girls of all ages, races and genders admitting that they had been sexually assaulted there was only one thing that I could think…. yes girls, me too.

It happened when I took my first holiday abroad without my parents, a massive group of us jetted off to Bendiorm in Spain to two weeks of fun in the sun on a club 18-30 holiday and although my mum and dad were a bit wary, they knew some of the lads I had grown up with were going and knew they would look after me so they permitted me to go. 

The lads really did look after us girls and we always started off in the hotel bar before all going off to the bars and clubs on the strip, we stayed together all night and the lads were in the same hotel so they always made sure we got back to our room safely. 

One night we were in a bar dancing when my friends strap snapped on her sandle, it was pretty early on and we were only in a bar around the corner from the hotel at this point so me and her walked back to change her shoes. 

We did not think it was necessary for the lads to come with us, afterall we were 2 streets from the hotel, we were togehter and would be less than 5 minutes. We knew there would be loads of people around – it was 9pm in Benidorm in August – the place was packed with tourists.

We walked back to the hotel, went to our room and she changed her shoes then we began to walk back. 

When we reached the corner where the streets met we were grabbed, pushed against a wall and pinned…. both of us, by two Spanish men. At first I think we just froze with fear, unable to believe it was happening. 

I suppose you would never think that two of you would be attacked at the same time or that there would be more than one attacker, or that it would happen somewhere so busy, it was still daylight!

I guess the unofficial plan with girls (we never discuss it and we probably should) would be that if something happened one of you would run for help…. but when you are both pinned by two men you are powerless and we were both terrified and completely at a loss as to what to do.

Then the groping started, they were trying to kiss us and grabbing at our chests, we struggled but two 5 foot 3 girls who weigh 9 stone were never going to wriggle free from the grip of grown men and as one of them put his hand up my dress and grabbed at my knickers I realised that we were in serious trouble and I had seconds to act before…. well I dread to think! 

For the first time in my life I threw a punch, hitting the bloke who was attacking me square in the face and harder than I ever thought I was capable of. 

He stepped back startled and his mate turned to help him (to be honest I think the attackers were both in complete shock that I had even dared throw a punch and were quite clearly not expecting it because they were the oes froen in shock now) but it worked to our advantage and as they were distracted I grabbed my friends hand and we ran for our lives towards the bar and to the safety of our friends. Once wewere running   they did not pursue us.

I think what we failed to realise at the time was that we had been sexually assauted and just how serious what had happened to us was! 

As young girls taking our first steps in the world I think we just thought that because we had not been (god forbid) raped, that the police did not need to know. We genuinely just thought we had been lucky we did not get raped….

LUCKY that we only got sexually assaulted. Lucky it was not worse….

The truth is, afterwards when my mind processed the events of what had happened I felt a few different things but the biggest and strongest feeling was doubt and I found myself questoning everything…. 

Was that really a sexual assault? 

Does it count? 

Was it bad enough? 

Were those men just a bit over zealous and drunk?

In my opinion, there lies the problem. 

Every time a woman is attacked in that way, plays it down like we did and doubts herself as to “whether it counts” and every time we do not report it, every time we think ourselves “lucky” and think “it could have been worse” we become part of the problem by allowing it to continue!

Those two men probably grabbed more young holiday makers that night…. myself and my friend owed it to other women to report those men for everyones safety! 

We owed it to ourselves to recognise that we had been vicitms of a crime. I am really ashamed that we failed to respond to that situation and I know my friend (who is now a police officer) is too – that is why I am writing his blog post – in the hope that another woman will read it and if she ever finds herself in that situation she will speak up where we failed to.

As women we should be free to go about our business without fear of being groped, touched and raped. 

We should not self doubt that “it might have not been a sexual assault” when someones unwanted advances require us to physicaly punch them to get them off us! 

We should not play down these assaults and attacks as over zealous and drunk behaviour and we should not feel ashamed when we are a victim. 

We need change and if by saying #metoo and sharing my story helps oher women to speak up I will be really pleased because the more of us that do speak up and the more society realises how widespread this problem is, the harder it will be for people to keep turning a blind eye and sooner or later something will have to be done to address it and for me, I think that has to be done through education. 

My Domestic Violence Journey By Lola Dean

By Lola Dean

**** Trigger Warning ****

I’ve wanted to blog my journey for a long time but the time has never been right, something always got in the way. 

My journey over the past few years has been sad, it’s been testing and scary. At times it’s been downright frightening and there have been moments of joy, interspersed that eventually lead me back to the fear.

The fear is the violence and abuse I received from a person I loved dearly. 

Someone I trusted and gave my heart to. 

I’ve watched as my once solvent, happy life became one in which I lost who I was. 

I became an expert at lying, covering my tracks. 

I had a book of excuses and explanations remembered in my head. In effect I was a master of disguise. 

Outwardly happy and continuing working, being a Mum. Inside I was a confused, fearful person, consistently feeling out of control, wondering when I would next need to lie, hide from my phone, placate a violent outburst. Wondering how I would diffuse things, protect my daughter and how I would get through the day.

The signs were there in the beginning. 

Over protectiveness that I misread as love. 

Odd comments that I brushed aside. 

Refusing to acknowledge my past but freely telling me of his. 

Jealousy I palmed off as sweet and caring. 

Derogatory remarks about an ex-wife. 

Occasional drunkenness that lasted days…. 

I always excused it until this became my life and suddenly I was pregnant. 

Immediately life became worse. Desperately I assured myself I could change him, it would be better when the baby was here. All his promises would be true. We’d be a family – but it wasn’t.

It was worse than I could ever imagine. 

Controlled and coerced as I protected my daughter.

Anything to keep the peace. 

Anything to stop the name calling, criticism, the theft. 

Anything to end the incessant belittling. 

He took my money, stole my things. Threatened me and abused me. But I had to keep my baby safe so I continued smiling on the outside. I started to try and ready myself to escape. I hid our passports, birth certificates. I had plan after plan of escape. I could never do it though. Fear held me there. Like a frightened little girl not knowing who to turn to. My friends disappearing. They didn’t understand it. 

I pulled away from people- this was his plan though, to ostracise me.

Lies upon lies. It was my fault, everything was my fault. If I hadn’t been so stupid. So useless he wouldn’t have lied or reacted like that. I realised a while ago that he stunted my pleasure. I stopped reading books as he told me they were rubbish. My music was wiped as it was rubbish too.

Now though – I’m out. 

Maybe I had to hit rock bottom.

Maybe I’m lucky. 

But from somewhere I took a step that gave me freedom. 

The Police officers that let me talk for hours and took my statement.

The detective that told me I wasn’t alone. 

My solicitor that got me a non-molestation order, my local woman’s aid, the National Domestic Violence helpline. 

The family liaison officer at school that gave me her personal phone number. 

My counsellor that listened. 

The poster on the toilet door in the hospital that encouraged me to find help. 

My family that were still there for me. 

My best friend that offered me escape abroad. 

And the new friends that didn’t know my past or where I was coming from but opened their arms and took me with them. 

Accepting me and my daughter and helping me find a new path. Allowing me to have times now where I’m not sad, times when I don’t remember what was but look to a new future for my daughter and I

If you or anyone else is affected by the issues discussed here please seek help here:

http://www.nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk/

That’s My Friend! By Masked Avenger 

By Author Anonymous 

I woke up this morning to a message from my friend Mavis:

“Dotty looks a bit rough!”

I was a bit confused. I didn’t know what she was on about. And I don’t know a Dotty. 

So, as the guttural, early morning grunt that would have been my response (had Mavis been in my house) was tricky to spell, I replied in the universal way;


‘?’ 

“Underwood. She was on breakfast TV at the pencil museum. Not sure I like her hair but if she does that’s all that matters”

Then I understood. Mavis, a friend of mine had seen another friend of mine on the TV. It was too early in the morning for a rational response. 

So I replied: 

“1) Dot, not Dotty

2) absolutely what she thinks is all that matters – it is not about her hair and about whatever she was invited on the TV to talk about

3) at least you sent this as a message to me and didn’t slag her off online like all the other twats do

4) would you like to go on TV to see what people tweet/text/say about you and how they perceive you look? 

Fucking hell Mavis”.

I got on with some work, went for a swim and calmed down. After four hours, Mavis had not replied so I sent her another message. 

“I’m sorry if I overreacted this morning but your message was the first thing I saw when I woke up, and she’s my friend. Just like you’re my friend. 

She had to be there at 5 this morning, so she got up I guess at 3:30 or 4, and did her own hair and makeup. She wasn’t there when her kids woke up, because she’d gone to work. 

She gets abuse online every time she goes on TV for how she looks, her hair, her accent, because she’s female. Sometimes just because she’s there.

I spent a good deal of time speaking to her the week before last because she was going on TV during the Labour conference and the Momentum folks would do what they do. She just gets abuse. 

Disagree with her if you want. I do. We enjoy it! Today I’d argue that her sensible cynicism towards government policy is outweighed by the fact the Tories are set on the policy and there’s money in the pot for councils that go along with it, so the prudent thing to do is to acquiesce.

So say that, disagree with the content of what she says, engage in a debate, but don’t just say that she looks rough and her hair is shit. Because that’s my friend.

And if anyone said the same about you I’d fly off the handle about that too.”

Mavis apologised. 

Dot never needs to know. 

But that got me thinking, we forget too often that it’s someones’ friend on the screen. 

Today, it was my friend but they’re all somebody’s friend or mother, brother or sister, father or child. 

I don’t care what you look like on the TV. I don’t care what you wear, what you sound like, where you’re from. I’d like to listen to what you’re saying, and engage with you on the issues. 

To borrow a sports metaphor, play the ball not the person. 

You might come back to me with Farage and Hopkins, who don’t engage in reasoned debate but sensationalise and rabble rouse. 

I’d argue they’re the exceptions which prove the rule. Rent-a-gobs are few and far between. Most talking heads on our screens are there because they have an interesting perspective, experience or approach. 

Listen, and disagree if you want, but don’t slag off what they look like. 

It’s cheap, it’s petty and it’s juvenile. 

And I know, I called this piece ‘That’s My Friend’, which makes me sound a bit like a five year old. But that is my friend, and if you go after her you’re no friend of mine. 

Names have been changed to protect Mavis and Dot. Also, she wasn’t at the pencil museum – but you should go, I hear it’s great!

Family Life, Support and Judgement By Kelly Grehan

By Kelly Grehan

Yesterday I attended an event organised by Mums4Corbyn at The World Transformed.

It was clear that women have a lot to offer each other in terms of support. One issue that came up was that of breast feeding. The problem, in Britain at least is that the feeding of babies can often feel an issue of division rather than unification.  

The UK has the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world.
About 80% of women try breastfeeding at birth but by the end of the first week half have given up.  
Lots of new mums speak about feeling pressure to breastfeed and experiencing guilt about ‘failing.’ 
In recent decades a newer pressure has emerged, for babies to be in a sleeping and eating routine as quickly as possible and this is largely incompatible with breastfeeding and not good for milk production. Mothers are now experiencing a sense of failure if their children are not complying with this picture-perfect experience of motherhood.

To be clear if women chose not to breastfeed this is absolutely fine, what concerns me is a society that tells women to breastfeed, fails to support them to do so and then instills guilt into them for the failure.  

I’m passionate about more support and understanding for new mums, partly because of my own experience. My first child struggled to latch on, was losing weight, not sleeping. He is 10 now, but I’ve never forgotten the awful sense of failure that overtook me. It later transpired I had a tongue tie which made it hard for him to latch on. I fed half breast milk and half formula for four months, before giving up completely. Anytime I met anyone who talked of finding feeding easy or of having fed for long periods I felt jealous and the sense of disappointment hit me.  
Three years later my second one fed without any issues immediately after birth and I breastfed him for over a year. My previous guilt and anxiety about breastfeeding melted away.

What the experience of having two such polar opposite experiences of breastfeeding I have been able to observe the divisive nature many conversations about breastfeeding take, with it often causing conflict, defensiveness and separation between mothers. 

Then of course other issues start to take on the form of division and competition between mothers – weaning, childcare, controlled crying, discipline, clothing, diets, going back to work – discussions around all these things often feel like they end in judgement rather than support.

Is there something about our approach as a society that is unsupportive towards parenting and parents in general?

Well research confirms that if women receive support – whether it be from a friend or family member, a health professional, or volunteer breastfeeding supporter – they are likely to breastfeed for longer. 

Yet, Peer Support and Drop in sessions for breastfeeding services are being cut all over the country. 

In Kent where I live, the County Council was proposing to absorb the support into the health visiting service make a saving of £404,000 a year.

This week the consultation was suddenly halted until September so we await news of what will happen next. Sadly, I think we all know health visitors are too overstretched to offer the help needed.

It is a similar picture with other parenting issues. Up to 20% of women experiencing mental health problems in pregnancy or the first 12 months after birth. A Mental Health Alliance study in 2014 report found significant gaps in the detection of mental health problems in the period before and after birth, only an estimated 40% are diagnosed, with just 3% of women experiencing a full recovery. 

Costs of perinatal mental illness in the UK are estimated at £8.1bn per year, or almost £10,000 per birth. Yet fewer than 15% of areas provide effective specialist perinatal services for women with severe or complex conditions, and almost half provide no service at all.
Sure Start appeared to be making some progress with a culture change, but more than 350 Sure Start children’s centres have closed in England since 2010, with only eight new centres opening over that period. Spending on the centres in the 2015-16 financial year was 47% less in real terms than in 2010.

Childcare remains a deeply expensive and stressful thing for many parents, as work and money compete with family pressures compete, causing terrible stress and anxiety for parents. 

There is nothing I can find to indicate any progress has been made in aiding parents with this.  

It seems that family life, feels very unsupported in this country.
Judgement and pressure reign and support is hard to access and what is available is diminishing.

I think this culture is damaging family life and impacting upon the happiness of parents, children and everyone else. 

 The lack of support undoubtedly impacts on emotional well being across the board. We need better services, but we also need to look at our attitudes towards each other and to create more supportive dialogues and attitudes. 
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