Credit where credit’s due

It needs someone pretty special to take a workable majority, show the fixed term parliament act up for the chocolate teapot it always was, call a snap election, call for strength and stability, and end up with a hung parliament. In the process almost losing a home secretary who you comprehensively dumped on during the campaigning, rendering the term “running  through a field of wheat” a metaphor for, well I’m not quite sure what really but if you think it’s naughty it shows how out of touch with reality and most people you actually are. If the aim was to gain a mandate for Brexit, you had it you weapon’s grade wank badger. I mean parliament voted to trigger A50, or did you sleep through that bit? You’re now reliant on the DUP, who I don’t think actually like you very much, to form any kind of workable majority. And that’s only if your own MPs agree with you, and I’m not sure they like you all that much either.

Well done Mrs May. As for resigning? Well I guess since you made this mess, you might as well live with it. God knows the rest of us have to.



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Lies, damned lies and propaganda

Whenever anyone shares data, stats or facts with you, ask yourself this: why are they telling me? Information does not occur in a vacuum, so why is someone telling me this particular thing, not some other thing? Whilst I don’t hold with the idea that there are lies, damn lied and statistics, it is true that someone can wave one piece of data in front of you to prevent you from focusing on or finding out about another. It’s a magician’s sleight of hand. A pickpocket’s carefully placed wrist pressure. Direct you towards one thing and you might not notice another.

18765974_10154476032452019_277567954129105029_nPolitical propagandists are cunning enough not to lie flat out, well not generally, but like Trump’s interpretation of Sadiq Khan’s calls not to be alarmed, they can place facts somewhere shorn of context such that they give you a false impression. So what to make of the above infographic?

Well for a start, Labour were only in power for the first four months of 2010 so that doesn’t fill me with confidence as to the trustworthiness of the source. The minimum wage is set in October so the 2010 figure is one set under a Tory government. The Low Pay Commission reviews the NMW each year and make recommendations to the government so I’m not absolutely sure it can be held up as a great example of Tory policy especially when you consider that the Conservatives objected to the introduction of NMW in 1998. Hold onto that. If you spot things awry with a piece of information you want to ask, how thorough has this person been? Is this a mistake they’ve made or have they quite deliberately told me something not quite right and if so, why?

For the purposes of this short post I’ll leave out the annual deficit figures. What I will flag up is this, why cite the deficit and not some other figure? In February 2013 David Cameron was reprimanded by the UK Statistics Authority for confusing the deficit with the debt. Debt has increased under the Tories which is why they’ll tell you the deficit has reduced and why they’ll try to elide the difference between the two.

So, looking at this table, I’ll just briefly do three things. 1. Fact check, site sources 2. Adjust for inflation 3. Put some context back. After doing one and two, the table looks like this:

Fact check

National minimum wage information here: Note that it does change depending on age. In all cases I’ve taken that for the oldest category at the time

Information on the NHS budget is from

For the tax free allowance I used the HMRC’s website. For the GDP and unemployment stats I used the Office for National Statistics

So, first the remaining stat on the economy, the GDP. Inflation adjusted, it doesn’t actually look as if the Tories are making the increases they claim to be. Even if it’s less than a decade ago, bear in mind prices change.

Second, the NHS. Under the Labour governments of 1997-2005 there was the highest sustained increase in funding since the NHS was established. Contrast this with the Tories who are allowing increasing amounts of privatisation, whether it be by putting contracts out to tender to firms such as Virgin Healthcare or selling Plasma Resources UK to Bain Capital, a private equity firm set up by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. And if you’re curious about the tenders by private companies for NHS services, have a look at the number of Tory MPs sitting on the boards of private healthcare firms who might profit from large NHS contracts. Of course one could argue that the NHS needs not just cash but more reform and that might include allowing in private companies. But if that is the case, why do these figures concentrate on the budget alone? Whoever devised this table of data, why did they just tell you about the NHS budget without any other information?

Third, with regard to NMW; tax free allowance and unemployment, for context we can discuss these together. Once inflation adjusted you can see that actually, the rise in NMW under the Tories is small and that in fact direct comparison is complicated because the age brackets were changed. Also, the rise is put forward by a separate body, not the government of the day.

Under the Tories and the coalition, the numbers of self-employed, part time employees and those on zero hours contracts has risen. Yes, they may well be off the unemployment register, but how secure are the jobs they’ve got? Added to which, the Tories have set about dismantling employee rights to make it easier, basically, to sack you. To be honest, I’ll take a full time, secure contract over a slight pay rise, job insecurity and part time or no work any day.

So why then are these figures being given to us? What do you notice about them? They concern the economy, workers’ rights and the NHS. They are all things which Labour voters will worry about. So if you want to pull those voters towards the Tories, you have to convince them that these things are safer with the Tories than they were with Labour. You have to show that look, the NHS budget is higher, NMW is higher, the deficit is down. What you don’t do is mention the actual state of the NHS; the denudation of employment rights and what’s happening with the national debt, as opposed to the deficit.

After the 1867 Reform Act, which saw an increase in the numbers of largely middle-class male voters, Robert Lowe, 1st Viscount Sherbrooke, is rumoured to have said “we must educate our masters”. Actually, it seems likely that he didn’t say it but the idea that he did fits a neat narrative that saw increased access to education in 1870. If you can vote, you should be educated. What worries me, almost 150 years later, is that the right wing press have worked out that few people are taught how to spot propaganda and how to deal with it. Of course, this post might just be more propaganda but for the other side. Nonetheless, whatever side you voted for, or might be about to vote for, I would ask you this, when someone shares information with you, take a few minutes to ask why and dig further. There will always be a reason, and it might not be the one you think it is. Vote or not, we cannot be masters of politicians if we fail to understand how they manipulate us.

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Be safe! Be seen!

Well I would be safer if you fucking looked

Every autumn, every time the clocks change, someone witters on about the importance of wearing hi viz for vulnerable road users. Sometimes it’s even a road safety “professional” and having recently got into a bit of a discussion with one of them on Twitter I decided this topic really warrants more than 140 characters.

First, I’ll declare my hand. When I cycle I generally wear something like this Endura jacket because it’s pretty bright without making me look like a luminous canary. I have a bright rear light, bright front light and I wear fluorescent silver snap bands on my ankles because I have to keep my trousers away from the chain and I might as well use something bright to do so. I know my get up is eye catching because drivers sometimes claim that my lights are too bright and they’re dazzled (no, I’m not polite to them). When I ride my horse I vary what I wear but I will generally go for something that can be seen at some distance over a hedge. It’s not that I’m anti being seen but I am against unexamined “common sense” arguments because I’m aware that these won’t necessarily keep me or anyone else safe. And if I can’t be bothered to look after myself, I certainly don’t want to put my horse at risk because I didn’t do my research.

There are two problems here – first, does hi viz protect the individual and second, does it make the roads safer for everyone? On the first, the evidence is actually fairly mixed. This study of conspicuity aids for motorcyclists found that what works varies according to environment. And this Nottingham PdD thesis found that actually, there’s a slightly raised risk of crashes amongst cyclists using conspicuity aids (yes, the author did adjust for other factors). So whilst being more visible by using hi viz might seem like an obvious choice, A. it won’t in some environments make me more visible and B. if it does, it might increase my risk of crashing (if for example I assume that someone must have seen my eye-searing outfit when actually the cockwombles are on their phone and haven’t looked).

Which brings me to my next point. I can’t make someone look. It doesn’t matter what I wear, if they are not concentrating or think they don’t need to or are adjusting their CD player or using a mobile or speeding or whatever else it is drivers do, no amount of retroreflectives, Christmas tree lights or disco balls will make them see me in time to do something about it. For every “be safe be seen” campaign there need to be at least three “keep other people safe, watch what you’re doing” campaigns. The problem with putting the emphasis on the vulnerable road user to be lit up is that it takes the emphasis away from the person operating the dangerous machinery to be responsible for looking. That in the end could make us all less safe. Drivers crash into houses, emergency service vehicles, trees, street furniture (including traffic islands, which are pretty hi viz), and bridges. So whatever is causing crashes, it isn’t only lack of visibility on the part of the thing, or living being, crashed into.

The answer I got back to this point about things drivers crash into was along the lines of “but those things didn’t step into the car’s path” which is interesting for various reasons. Reporting of collisions on the road consistently gives cars agency when actually it should, one would hope, be the driver in charge. If anything it’s the driver’s path, not the car’s. But is it? Philosophically, is a pedestrian (or other road user) moving into the driver’s path? If I am walking from A to B across a town my path will intersect with those of other road users. Am I stepping into their path or are they in mine?

De jure the answer is complex. There is no jay walking offence in the UK. Some people are aware that pedestrians have right of way at junctions if they are crossing as a car approaches. Whilst one would not want to test out the theory, there’s no particular reason to assume that the road is any more a driver’s than it is mine as a pedestrian. As this article on jay walking in the US makes clear, there is something in the evolution of transport that has placed the motor vehicle above pedestrians. At some point, the path became the car drivers’, not the vulnerable road users’ and even though in the UK this has not been enshrined in law, in practice I’m not going to argue with a lorry. Or a Ford Fiesta for that matter. De facto the path has become the drivers’ but not, in the UK, for any particular legal reason, more because might has become right and this has been designed into road layout. To get across a busy road, I as a pedestrian must press a button or request that traffic stop as a favour. Drivers do not assume that actually the vulnerable road user is just as important as they are and that therefore, it might be the car crossing the pedestrian’s path and not vice versa.

So practically, what do I do to try to ensure that I’m safe and seen? Well in my experience, I am at greatest risk riding or cycling when someone in a motor vehicle is overtaking. It isn’t that they don’t see me – it’s that they see me and decide it’s OK to risk my life in an effort to get where they want to more quickly. On a bike my key strategy is road positioning and a hypersensitivity to what is around me. On my horse, again it’s road positioning and hypersensitivity, but without transferring that sensitivity to him.

I bought my horse, Charlie, for about 20% of what you would expect to pay for a horse of his age, type and experience because he had had an accident on the road and had lost confidence. I spent months convincing him that it was OK, that I would look after him, that I knew where the tractors, the buses, the rattling trailers were and I would keep him safe and away from them. Did I achieve this by wearing luminous yellow? No. That might be common sense but it makes no horse sense. I did it by being aware, planning ahead, moving him to a place that was safe when I thought something he couldn’t cope with was approaching. I keep him safe by looking and planning ahead, and by assuming that no-one else on the road is doing the same. It works a whole lot better than just shoving fluorescent on and hoping some dimwit notices me.


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Cycling terms explained

A handy guide to all those terms the cyclist in your life uses that befuddle you. NB unlikely to make you less befuddled than you were before. May make you more irate

Cake: essential fuel for cycling. It is in no way, shape or form unhealthy. Anyone who says otherwise is not your friend.

Cycle path: a path which according to the Highway Code you can use and according to non-cycling motorists you must use, on pain of, well, something or other. Irritating them probably. Unlikely to be fit for purpose. Will probably feature broken glass and irate pedestrians who tell you it isn’t a cycle path, despite the prominent blue signs saying it is a cycle path. Ontologically they may have a point as despite the signage, it is unlikely to be a path you want to cycle on and it’s still less likely it will end somewhere you want to cycle to.

Goes a bit Sustrans: see cycle path. Not, unfortunately for the organisation, a compliment. Refers to a more than usually awful facility, often with random and inexplicable barriers. May also be overgrown, disrupted by tree roots, narrow or so rural you need an MTB. Or just a tractor.

Helmet: confers magical abilities to avoid all damage to anyone on a bike hit by a car, lorry or even freight train. Worried about fractures to things other than your head? Concerned that a truck might actually turn your internal organs to mulch? Don’t be. Wearing a helmet will protect you against all those things and more. Try wearing one when you’re drunk and negotiating stairs, as statistically it’s more dangerous than cycling to the shops

High viz: similar to helmets. Has magical properties which insure that drivers will actually look when they haven’t otherwise bothered. Must be worn at all times by cyclists so that motorists who are on their phone/ speeding/eating breakfast/ generally just a bit distracted and can’t be arsed to look think “fuck me my retinas are being seared by retroreflectives perhaps I’d better concentrate whilst operating dangerous machinery”

Keirin: not a Scooby but I’m assuming that one day the bloke on the scooter will win

MGIF: must get in front. A reference to drivers who haven’t grasped sections 162-169 of the Highway Code and believe that they have a divine right to be in front of a bike, even in situations in which clearly the bike would be faster if only they hadn’t plonked their car in the way

N+1 : The number of bikes you should own, where n= the number of bikes you currently own. Once dismissed by an acquaintance of mine on the grounds that maths is tricky. Car drivers eh.

Rain: stuff that makes you wet. This is a problem that can be solved using a towel. Contrary to what non-cyclists will have you believe does not also make you melt or make cycling impossible.

Road tax: abolished in 1937. Millions of motorists apparently still pay it, which makes them irritable and gives them a sense of entitlement

SMIDSY: Sorry mate I didn’t see you. Used by certain motorists in the belief that not seeing someone absolves them of responsibility in a collision. Actually an admission of incompetence and the need for a sight test

VED: a tax based on vehicle emissions. Millions of motorists believe cyclists should pay it despite the evidence that A. they already do if they own a car B. cycles would be zero rated and therefore in Band A (£0) C. it doesn’t cover the full cost of the roads D. they’re usually already paying income tax and council tax both of which actually do go towards funding roads


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In defence of dressage?

During the 2012 Olympics I wrote an article for the Guardian online defending dressage as a sport and Britain’s dressage team in particular. Four years later the British team came a respectable second to Germany and Dujardin retained her individual title. Dujardin’s freestyle test was an incredible performance from both horse and rider and for many people, myself included, a beautiful display of teamwork. However, questions remain over the future of dressage. Those questions are being asked both inside and outside the equestrian world.

From the outside we have the perspective of bloggers such as Patrick Redford who argued that the Olympics are for humans and are about human endeavour, not equine endeavour. It’s not difficult to counteract this. Horses have been there since the beginning, with the original Greek games including chariot races. The equestrian competitions have always been a part of the modern Olympics. It’s not as if someone woke up in 1988 and randomly decided to add horses into the mix. They may not fit with what Redford wants to see, but he’s not a one-man decision making body, as much as he might like to be.

The Olympics are diverse and we can all pick the bits we prefer. Redford could just avoid watching horses. The BBC had about a dozen channels covering the event. It’s easy just not to watch dressage, show jumping and eventing. I don’t watch any number of ball sports, not because I’m denying their sporting nature or saying they don’t belong or trying to turn others against them but just because I personally don’t find them interesting.

In terms of whether or not they’re athletic, riders do not need the prowess of say Usain Bolt or Jessica Ennis-Hill. However, riding is intensely physical. To ask my horse for shoulder-in I have to be aware of how his feet are falling, feel what his hind legs are doing, ask his shoulders to take a different track from his hind legs and co-ordinate my efforts and his. Look at the riders on the medal podium – many are older, but how many strike you as un-athletic? If I ban riding from the Olympics on fitness grounds I’m also going to have to ditch golf and shooting which require many skills, but not the kind of cardiovascular recovery rates needed for a marathon.

Horses do much of the work, yes. You need a good horse at Olympic level but you cannot just stick any rider on them and expect them to succeed – there is a considerable human element. Much of the criticism I have seen doesn’t really register the skill level involved and then just resorts to petty insults along the lines of “It looks silly” and “what have I watched, I don’t understand?” Concepts of silliness are highly subjective. I think badminton looks silly. And throwing yourself backwards over a bar doesn’t really strike me as the action of someone rational but I’m happy for it to be in the Olympics. The specialist attire required for riding is generally practical although I think the dressage riders could ditch the top hats and tails for helmets and show jumping-style jackets. As for not understanding it, it would take me quite a while to work out what the hell is going on with the keirin and I like cycling. I don’t think my lack of understanding is a reason to ban something.

From inside the equestrian community there are more serious points about the welfare of competition horses which are much more difficult to counteract. Dressage has long been dogged by controversies over rollkur, a training method in which the horse’s nose is forced behind the vertical and the head and neck carriage are brought so short that the horse has difficulty breathing. If you look at the photo below of my horse Charlie grazing, you can see that his head and neck are stretched out. The horse has evolved to put its head down and eat forage at ground level (most of the time, some of their ancestors were browsers and modern horses will still eat trees and shrubs). The horse’s windpipe and gullet are almost in a straight line in this position, allowing easy breathing and swallowing.


Contrast that with the picture here of Parzival competing. His nose is behind the vertical (a no-no in dressage that you cannot get away with unless you’re famous and compete internationally). Parzival’s windpipe is jammed into the space you can see just above the white padding on his noseband. Take a hosepipe and flex it to around 30 degrees to get an idea of just how narrow this is. It’s why quite often when you watch dressage you can hear a horse’s breathing. Done correctly, the horse’s nose should be further from its chest, the angle is less extreme and the restriction in breathing is far less marked. However, movements such as the extended walk are included partly as a way for the horse to get its breath back.

When we ride a horse we ask it to carry an increasing amount of weight on its hind legs. In the photo of Charlie grazing he’s carrying around 60% of his weight on his front legs. Even when he raises his head and neck, he’s still likely to be “on the forehand” i.e. carrying more weight on his front legs than his hind legs. It makes him difficult to control, hard to manoeuvre and a bit uncomfortable to ride. If I ask him to carry more weight on his hind legs and to lift his shoulders, head and neck, he becomes easier to control, more comfortable and, if it’s done correctly, it’s easier for him to carry my weight. This is the original point of dressage and schooling – it isn’t really an end in itself. It’s a preparation for any of the other things you might want to do with your horse. It’s easier for them to jump if they can power over using their hind legs as springs than if they’re trying to lift an already heavy forehand. It’s more fun cantering across the moor if your horse is less likely to trip and more able to right himself if he does. It’s easier to open a gate without dismounting if your horse can turn on its forehand. You can control an animal more easily on the road if it knows shoulder-in because you can ask it to bend its head to the right and see traffic out of its right eye so it shies to the left away from the traffic. That’s if it shies at all – the extra control schooling gives you may well mean you can anticipate the horse’s movement and prevent it from jumping sideways.

Somewhere along the way, humans got competitive about this. We couldn’t just enjoy riding, or even be content to be good at it as a means to an end. And the competition wasn’t “my horse is the healthiest and happiest” it was “I can jump higher/ go faster/ perform a better pirouette”. I wouldn’t have a problem with this if I thought the horses’ welfare was being maintained during the process but when I watch top-level competitions, it’s fairly obvious it isn’t. If it’s not Rollkur, it’s spur marks. Or nosebands cranked so tight that the horses’ jaws are damaged. Or Penelope Leprevost booting her horse for tripping. Or Andreas Helgstrand turning his horse’s tongue blue. Or Totilas being pushed to such an extent that he’s lame.

Of course there is the argument that at around 500kg, it’s nigh on impossible to make a horse do something it doesn’t want to do but that is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of power. George Orwell wrote Animal Farm after watching a small boy leading a large farm horse and wondering how someone who could so easily be overcome stayed in charge. Power is a kind of trick that you play by convincing someone that doing your will is the easiest option. You can force a horse to do something it doesn’t want to do – look at the ironmongery in a dressage horse’s mouth. And don’t get me started on what show jumpers are allowed to use. A horse might find piaffe uncomfortable, so the rider ensures that not doing piaffe is even worse.

If horses really resist, if they really attempt to hospitalise us, they’re either beaten into submission, sold on repeatedly until if they’re lucky they find someone who understands them, or euthanized. And on the whole very few of them get to this stage because actually, they like us. The only reason we’ve been able to domesticate horses is because they do seem drawn to us and we’ve only bred from those who are more tractable. We don’t ride zebras (on the whole) because they’re a lot less willing, and I can’t say I really blame them. So yes, we can coerce or force horses into doing something they don’t want to do.

So where does this leave dressage? Some people take the view that we shouldn’t ride horses at all; that any time we do ride them we bully them into a state of learned helplessness. Others think we can but it should be with very minimal tack, excluding even bits. I don’t go that far but I have found over the years that it’s wise to pick your trainer carefully. I will no longer use any trainer who thinks that draw reins and tight flash nosebands are the answer to a horse resisting when the answer for me is to assess why the horse is exhibiting that level of discomfort, not to say pain. If Charlie wants to open his mouth he can do – it’s my job to find out why, not just to mask his symptoms of pain.

But at the higher levels of dressage, and all other equestrian disciplines, there is a greater perceived need to push horses into doing something they don’t necessarily want to do. Once someone is trying to make a living riding horses, they don’t really have the option to say “oh OK today is a bad day for this, spend it in the field, I’ll do something else”. Owners push riders to get results and if the riders don’t achieve these quickly enough, owners move the horse onto another rider who will push the horse. I don’t think high-level competitions necessarily have to include cruelty but we do need a major rethink and a huge effort to ensure that horses are not abused. They’ve evolved to be cooperative herd animals and these immensely powerful, graceful and generous animals should be celebrated, not tortured into submission.

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Leadsom, May and the mother of all rows

If you’d told me a month ago that two women would shortly be battling to be Prime Minister and there would not be one thing that I liked about the situation, I would have thought you’d had too much Beaujolais. Followed by a hallucinogenic chaser. I never thought I’d be half hoping that Theresa May would become PM even if it is solely on the grounds that she’s better than the alternative. And yet here I am, and there are May and Leadsom, engaged in a scramble to the top. Part of me doesn’t want to think any more at all, about any of it. And yet I’m still contemplating why this feels so bad.

And then I hear the news that Leadsom’s prime qualification for PM, her big advantage over May as far as she’s concerned, is that she’s a mother. To quote Leadsom “genuinely I feel being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country. A tangible stake”. I’m 44 and don’t have children. The chances of me becoming a mother are roughly the same as the chances of me winning the lottery, particularly since I don’t buy tickets. In essence what Leadsom is saying is that this makes me less able to empathise, that it makes me less able to think about the future, because I won’t have a stake in it. Thanks, Andrea. Thanks for that.

Now there is the fact that this is hideously insensitive. There’s also the fact that being hideously insensitive makes Leadsom more likely to win a campaign for Tory leadership, not less. But what really alarms me about this is that it seems Leadsom can only invest in the future if that future involves her direct descendants. When it boils down to it, this is a selfish attitude. Personally, I fear for what is happening in Britain because of the effects it is having on society as a whole. And I do see that society as a whole. I worry that anyone who is slightly different, whether that be a difference of race; class; sexuality; age; health or gender will suffer as our political and economic systems implode. I worry that people will suffer prejudice against them and that they will experience genuine hardship through no fault of their own but by sheer luck of the draw. I fear for these people. The fact that they aren’t my direct descendants is neither here nor there. They are fellow human beings and I’d rather they didn’t suffer.

Contrast this with Leadsom, who seems to think that you will worry more about your future if you have children, as if the only way one can empathise is by projecting forwards into your own personal lineage. And in this it seems to me she is highlighting the worst of the Tory party – they will protect their own, they will care about their own, they will see nepotism as normal. They will not be able to understand how you can really genuinely care about the future of society as a whole rather than just your own part of it. It harks back to fiefdom.

Mulling this over, it’s not that I want a female PM per se. It’s that I thought that for us to be in this situation, where not one but two women had got to the top in politics, we would have a more egalitarian society. I would have thought that managing to juggle motherhood with this would be a positive. That having two women reach the top would show that women do not have to chose between career and family. But what Leadsom and May demonstrate is that actually, we have the same political class. The women that succeed are drawn from the same fairly narrow sector of society as many of their male counterparts. True, they are not the products of Eton, but their privilege nonetheless stacks up. And Leadsom’s comments about motherhood confirm this for me. We aren’t entering an age in which we are judged by merit rather than class, age, race or gender. We’re going back to a time when all that really mattered is who your parents were and how much privilege they managed to gain for their own very small part of the social spectrum.



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Because the rant is never over

Sometimes I get annoyed. I get angry. I rant. I do things that would be normal in a man. In a woman? Oh no. That’s undignified. It’s shrewish. It’s strident. It’s outspoken. It’s hysterical (and I don’t mean funny. I really do not mean funny). It’s all these things but for a woman it isn’t fucking normal. Apparently.

What do I get angry about? Oh bloody everything. All the bloody time. And then I get told I shouldn’t be angry and guess what? That really pisses me off. I get angry because it’s 2016 and apparently some employers have only just realised that you can’t force women to wear high heeled shoes. And I get angry at that advert that says women expect their feet to hurt in heels and they should wear these gel inserts in their shoes when really what I think they should be doing is buying brogues. Or trainers. Or anything that doesn’t cause them actual pain. And painful footwear shouldn’t be normalised with gel inserts. Although the good news is that the review that said they will melt and ruin your shoes did make me smile for a second or two.

I get angry when I’m trying to find a film to watch and I see a listing that describes Fifth Element as a film starring Bruce Willis and Gary Oldman as if Milla Jovivich doesn’t fucking exist except as window dressing. Which let’s face it is what Hollywood thinks women are but I don’t want my TV channel guide bloody well colluding with them and writing women out of the cast altogether. And Leeloo is key to the damn plot so include the actor who plays her as one of the stars ffs.

I get annoyed that female Disney characters get so little dialogue even when they’re main characters. And I get really, really annoyed at the way women’s voices are so appropriated that everyone thinks they talk more than they actually do. And I get annoyed that the Bechdel test exists and that even though all it asks is that a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man half of all films fail it.

And I get annoyed about CVs and publishing and research track records. Because by putting “Helen” on my CV instead of “Henry” everyone will downgrade it. Because even J.K. Rowling couldn’t publish under a female first name. Because my research funding and every other bastard thing will be curtailed and judged more harshly because I’m female.

Of course this makes me bloody furious, although being a woman I’m not allowed to be bloody furious. Which makes me incandescent.

I get annoyed when someone says Man when they mean Humans. Except apparently I’m not supposed to be angry about this because it’s just a word and I’m being Over Sensitive. The same way that I’m Over Sensitive about bikes and women’s bikes. About sport and women’s sports. About always being the add on, the outsider, the thing outside the norm. The bloody fucking other instead of the “neutral” template. I’m never the normal. Never the established thing from which others vary. I’m the bloody variant. And yes, “bloody” in that last sentence is not necessarily a swear word. Also, I find none of these things funny. If you want me to be a humourless, joyless, hairy-legged feminist I’ll embrace that with pride. Because I don’t care if you judge my looks positively. I don’t care if you judge my looks negatively. I care that you think a woman should be judged for her looks when I am so much more than that.

And you know what puts the tin lid on the whole damn thing? When someone says “I get annoyed with feminists blaming the patriarchy. Women are their own worst critics”. Really? Really? You think I hadn’t noticed that? You think I’m unaware of the extent to which we internalise the patriarchy? Of the ways in which we imbibe it and spew it back out again? Oh I know full well that women have agency and could stop wittering on about each other’s bodies and looks. But when tabloid newspapers portray them as pouting, static, supine, passive beings, when that famous sporting “newspaper” the Sun cannot include a single picture of a woman actually doing sport, do you not think that maybe, just maybe, that informs my thought patterns? That however much I want to escape from this, to see myself as active, to realise that I am more than how I look, just as every other woman is, it’s pretty fucking difficult to achieve when all the propaganda out there effectively tells me I’m just window dressing and I’d better dress properly. And get out of the window when I’m too old. And keep quiet. And not be angry. And wear 2-4 inch heels.

Except that I am angry. I am furious. And frankly, I have reason to be.

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