In Defence of Confession, And Why It’s Not Better to Last Than to Burn

“Someone tells me: this kind of love is not viable. But how can you evaluate viability? Why is the viable a Good Thing? Why is it better to last than to burn?” – Roland Barthes.

Recently, I’ve been feeling very inferior. Somewhat undereducated and woefully under-read, I’ve been writing more and feeling increasingly less confident in what I’m writing. Confessional to a fault and driven rather by the burning need for catharsis than any intellectual desire to impart anything to the reader, my effluence of prose is rarely anything more than a pack of drama-laden words hunting for a point. I cover the same ground over and over, seeking for a way to make it more viscerally real rather than identifying new viewpoints, new ideas. This has been panicking me; but I am determined to be panicked no more.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it is fundamentally flawed to suggest that the confessional, the experiential is, by its nature, not saying anything more than ‘this is what happened, this is how I feel’. The greatest joy of conversation is (or, more accurately, should be) the connection that we make to other people. Performative conversation is a fascinating thing; two people peacocking knowledge is inherently competitive and can be as stimulating for the external viewer as any real-life cock fight. Intellectually, these conversations stimulate me, but they are not the ones I remember with any bursting warmth of feeling. Instead, it’s the conversations I have in the half dark, one bottle of wine in, where secrets are revealed and you feel the reaching out of another’s soul to yours. I feel the same about literature.

Yes, I seek out intellectual stimulation, but it is the books that have kept me up until 3am, awash with tears that I return to again and again. The dismissal of emotive novels as ‘women’s literature’ is often founded on the fact that they are perceived as falling into this latter category. Ultimately, can the outpouring of emotion, so often seen as a feminine trait, ever have the same value as the perceived-masculine intellectual? If my writing is more interested in touching your heart than engaging your head, is it inherently lesser? As I’ve said, recently I’ve been increasingly concerned that it is.

Today, however, I’ve taken a bit of time to actually think about it, without any outside influence, and I’m a lot less convinced. The argument that the intellectual is more worthwhile than the experiential doesn’t hold any sway with me. There is plenty of literature, mostly written by dead white men, to be discussed in pubs by boys who only smoke Marlboroughs, only wear black, and self-confess to being ‘dead inside’. These are not the people I write for, they have enough literature for their disappointing experience. They have the privilege of smugly transcending the experiential – our whole society is geared towards their experience of the world.

Instead, I write for me. I write for the girl that is huddled under her covers, setting the duvet on fire with the bedside lamp, and crying with relief that someone else has experienced what she’s going through. I write for the girl checking out books she isn’t allowed to read from the library and covering them in a different dustjacket. I write for the first heartbreak, and for the strength that is in the softness to let it keep happening. I write for the determination to think what you like, and the enormous triumph that is when you don’t have the privilege of encouraged freedom of thought. I write for the woman that girl will become. I write for the intellectual awakening that occurs through the experiential awakening. For myself and, if it touches you, for you.

Certainly, my writing has something of the teenage obsession with strength of emotion, but I’m not convinced that this in itself is a weakness. I don’t write as a performance, to make people wonder at my enormous intellect, at my ground-breakingly spurious mental somersaults. I write so that just one person can say: that helps, that touches my soul. After all, as one eminent dead white man said – why is it better to last than to burn?

The Curse of the Cool Girl, And Why I’m Done With Pretending Not to Care

“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.” – Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl.

We’ve all met a Cool Girl, with their long hair and perfect arses, their craft beer knowledge and their fluid sexuality. Or, rather, we’ve all met a girl who is pretending to be her. I should know, I tried for a long time to be exactly that. Maybe I still look a bit like her, because some of the Cool Girl traits also happen to be real human woman traits too. I love whisky and craft beer, dirty jokes and eating an entire pizza. Those things are fine; I actually like those things. But some of the other Cool Girl traits aren’t me at all, and I’ve found them hard to give up.

I’ve always prided myself on being good at being one of the lads. Me, with my four older brothers and my devil-may-care attitude to wearing clothes in the house. Tall and blonde and filthy. Show me the girls you’ve matched with on Tinder whilst I’m laid in your arms on the sofa, because I don’t care. Ask me who I think is hotter. Call me up when you’re between women. Act like you barely know me when we’re with your friends, but forbid me from seeing anyone else. I don’t care, because I’m fucking cool. I put up with all of your shit and never call you out on it, whilst hiding any of mine – or worse, carefully not having any – so you don’t get hurt. Don’t I sound chill?

Spoiler alert: I’m not chill. I’m angry and stressed, I can’t sleep, I have a crick in my neck from that awkward position I never say anything about, my friends are fed up of listening to me. Why? Because what the Cool Girl attracts is an endless parade of scumbags. Men who put your needs last, because they can. Men who are seeing other women, because they can. Men who never text you unless you text them. Men who never take you on dates. Men who make you feel small and stupid when you haven’t heard of a band/niche French playwright/school of philosophical thought. Men who never go down on you. Men whose friends ask if you’re together and they say “No! I mean, I duno, I guess we’re sort-of-semi seeing each other?”. Men who can’t stand to see you with someone else, but will never ever commit to you. Cool Men.

I read this article the other day, about how the ‘cute but psycho’ joke is normalising abuse and women need to stop saying they identify with it. Whilst that’s a valid argument, all I could think about was how the ‘cute but psycho’ trope is just a reaction to the ever-pervading Cool Girl. She’s the opposite of the Cool Girl: she keeps a tight leash on her man, checks up on him, insists on a terrifying level of control. No one can deny it’s problematic. But, as women who have been denied any control, who have forced themselves to put up with all kinds of crappy treatment under the guise of being ‘cool’, is it any wonder that the reaction is to push back and claim some kind – any kind – of control?

We constantly talk down about women who have a dominant or, let’s face it, even an equal role in relationships. This is why I detest the word ‘whipped’. I hear people describing men as whipped all the time. Does he drive down to see his girlfriend at the weekend? Whipped. Did he bring her a glass of wine when she asked? Whipped. Does he cook all the meals while she cleans? Whipped. This rhetoric perpetuates the idea that women don’t deserve to be treated well, that being kind or considerate to your girlfriend is unmanly. There is no word to describe a woman who fetches her boyfriend a beer, who lovingly makes dips and buys in crisps for boys’ night. It is expected. Not only does the idea of being ‘whipped’ shame women for having needs, it also shames men for acting in a caring, nurturing way. It looks at healthy, loving relationships and calls them out for not adhering to some ancient 1950s stereotypes of how to behave.

How we talk about relationships is so important, because it shapes our expectations and the expectations of those around us. To be desirable, I felt overwhelming pressure to be the Cool Girl, no matter what the cost to my enjoyment and even my mental health. No matter what awful sort-of-semi relationships I had to endure. Pretending not to care, not to have any needs, is emotionally exhausting and damaging. I’ve seen girls put up with horrific behaviour and never call it out, because they’re scared of looking like they’re not a Cool Girl. I’ve done it myself. It’s time for us to start demanding what we require, and breaking off the damaging, sort-of-semi relationships if they fail to provide for our needs. We need to start saying no to that thing he’s asked us to do that always hurts, because doing it isn’t cool: it’s problematic. We also need to stop shaming men for being caring. It’s not fair to say we aren’t having our needs met, and then make men feel bad when they are meeting those needs. We need to pay attention to how we talk about relationships. Stop putting up with it. Stop perpetuating it. 

International Women’s Day, And Why We’re Still Having This Conversation

Happy International Women’s Day! So far this week I have fielded my mum’s concerns that a picture of me wearing fishnets on Instagram ‘gave the wrong impression’, as well as her accusatory questioning as to whether ‘all my friends are feminists now’. I have argued with a man about what defines the ‘shared female experience’, and had him disagree with me when I said it wasn’t giving birth. I have acted professionally towards a male colleague who suggested that a picture celebrating IWD on the work social media account shouldn’t just be of the women who work there ‘because men support women too’. I have felt guilty about eating pizza for tea, because as a six foot, size 10/12 woman I feel constant pressure to lose some weight. I have been called a misandrist. It is currently Wednesday.

I was brought up in an environment where women were seen as helpmeets to men, who are the head of the household. The pressure to marry so that you were spoken for, so you belonged to a man and could be neatly identified as his problem, was an overwhelming part of daily life. When I announced that I was going to university, I was quietly warned that it would make me unappealing, that no man wants a woman that is cleverer than him. Someone genuinely once said the words ‘if you act like a slut, you get treated like a slut’ to me. Women from the Bible were used as examples of how not to behave. Delilah the seductress, who cut off Samson’s hair as he slept in her lap, thus sapping his God-given strength, was the worst of femininity. No mention of the fact that he went along with her rather willingly. Dinah, who went into the city and was raped repeatedly by the King’s son – her own fault because she was friends with the local women. These were the women that were paraded before me as examples of why I wasn’t good enough, as a fifteen year old girl literally and figuratively tearing herself to shreds. I would like to say that it was a very different world but, realistically, it wasn’t.

Strangely, now I am newly empowered and happier than I ever thought possible, I find myself fielding new, different concerns that people have about me. I am called outspoken, wild, intimidating, aggressive – new words designed to police my behaviour. Men especially, but other women too, use words like this to suggest we should be smaller, quieter, we should not disrupt the status quo. Look at Donald Trump, calling articulate, powerful, knowledgeable Hillary Clinton a ‘nasty woman’. With those words he reduced her power to nothing, she was a caricature, a Disney cartoon witch holding out a poison apple to the people of America. People do it all the time, because words are important; words are power. I have heard male friends describe girls as ‘fundamentally unfuckable’ – and with that assertion she suddenly is nothing. Her brains, her success, her kindness, are impotent in the face of her lack of desirability. And yet these same men roll their eyes when we talk about the need for feminism. They say ‘not all men’, and ‘I’m just playing devil’s advocate here’, and ‘you’ll be burning your bras next’, because these phrases are reductive, they steal our power, make us laughable – make us nothing.

Well, I’m tired of feeling like I’m nothing. I will not sit down; I will not calm down, dear; I will not ‘oh shut up’. I refuse to be scared to speak up. Female oppression might not seem as visible to you as it once was. Yes, we have got the vote, we can drink in pubs, we can be the token one or two – alongside ten men – sitting in the boardroom. But the micro-aggressions of daily life are still going strong, as is the very real gender pay gap, the disproportionate number of women in low paid jobs, the unequal unpaid labour. I could go on. There are women across the world that have it much worse, for sure. I know this, so put your pint down and stop interrupting me. But here, in the United Kingdom, female inequality is still very present, very real. I, for one, plan to keep on speaking out against it, to keep on fighting it. I hope you do too. We are fifty percent of the human race, and it’s about time it felt like it. If this conversation is boring you, ask yourself this – why are we still having it?

The Fuckboy Phenomenon, And Why Boys Fear the Blogpost

Ah Fuckboys, the ubiquitous defining man of our generation; talented, good looking, charming and repulsive in equal measures. The phrase is used in various ways by different communities, but for my social groups it is always used like that. Maybe he is stylish, has a good haircut, drives a fancy car, but he always has one defining feature: women. Not just in his bed, the term is not one of sexual behaviour shaming, but rather a shaming of emotional behaviour. Alana Massey said in this article that ‘Fuckboy is not a dating style, so much as a worldview that reeks of entitlement but is aghast at the prospect of putting in effort…Fuckboys become emotional vampires to women who aren’t even their girlfriends.” And that, that nails it exactly.

I watch my friends fall for these men, I date them – inasmuch as it can be called dating; they are all around us, our friends, our brothers, our entitled boss. These are the men that approach me and tell me how my blogpost on emotional labour touched them, made them uncomfortable, because they saw the women that they string along in that post. It is descriptive of their behaviour, where not just physical connection, but emotional support is a glass of water they drain without ever filling up. What these men say to me is that they fear being the subject of that blogpost, or one like it. Not that they think they should change their behaviour, that they’ve recognised the emotional damage they are doing to women that they should be delighted to go out with and they’re going to stop. Rather, they fear being revealed for what they are. The Fuckboy relies on illusion, on the ability to convince a girl that she’s special, she’s different, for his success. Both myself and several of my friends have had boys tell them, “But you’re the only one emotionally”, as though them deigning to feel anything other than a physical attraction to us is some trophy to be polished and put on the mantle piece. He’s sleeping with half of the city, but he likes us. He’d speak to us when we’re dressed! Aren’t we lucky?

But, as Anne Lamott once said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” So, Fuckboys, this one’s for you. It is not good enough. You are not good enough. Wipe that pained expression off your face, stop trying to change the subject, because I won’t stand for it anymore. You will be held accountable. There are a thousand men out there that would love to be seen with me, that would love to be seen with my beautiful, clever, successful friends. There are men that text us when they’re drunk to tell us we’re the loves of their life and they can’t believe they let us get away. Stop telling me to ‘take it slow’, because boy, you’re on probation. I haven’t decided if you’re good enough for me yet, so stop acting like you are the ultimate hunting prize and I might win you if I creep up more quietly and more slowly than all the other lionesses. Talking to me every day and cooking me dinner isn’t a grand gesture, it’s the basics in decent human behaviour. Take me on a fucking date. Because I don’t know if I like you yet, and if you want to impress me it’s going to take a lot more effort than I’ve seen so far. If this blogpost is making you squirm, good. It’ll prepare you for the next one where I eviscerate your character, not because you hurt me, but because you didn’t measure up. I am not waiting, I am not pining. I am not impressed. Boot up and suit up, baby, because I’m a battle that none of us think you can win.

Female Friendships, and the Only Resolution I’m Making in 2017

In 2017 I will be drinking alcohol and eating cheese. If I exercise more it’ll be because I’m walking my friends’ dogs, dancing on the tables, and searching for cool bars. I don’t care about having a six pack, and if my eyebrows are better, you can guarantee it’s because my friend gave me a tutorial. 2017 is the year that I’m going to celebrate my female friendships.

Through the years, they’ve always been there for me. The ones that told me that the boy was punching, over a fancy gin cocktail, when I got dumped. The ones that don’t just hold my hair back when I’m sick, they plunger the sick out of the sink, tell me they still love me, and bring me lucozade and crisps the next morning. Girl friends should never be taken for granted, because through the boy troubles, the family troubles, and the work troubles, they’re always the ones who have got your back.

Women are encouraged to always be in competition with one another. Is she prettier? Smarter? She’s always more successful, and have you seen her Instagram? To die for. More and more though, I’m realising that women have something special, and that is our friendships with each other. I’ve never had such a large group of amazing female friends. Spread across the globe, I’ve got a girl for every occasion. They’re clever and funny; whether I’m waxing lyrical about feminism or discussing the latest highlighter, debating American politics or crying about how hard being an adult is, they always join in. I’ve never felt so lucky to know so many amazing women.

I challenge you to message them all, tonight, and tell them how much they mean to you. I guarantee that you’ll get back a tirade of love and affection. Every woman that has helped you through something difficult, that has lifted you up when you felt that you couldn’t go on, that has told you that you have green in your teeth when no one else would. And you have done something for that woman in return that shows how generous and loving you are. If I wonder what kind of woman I am, I look to my friends. Would they be friends with someone that I couldn’t be proud of? Of course they wouldn’t, they would only ever be friends with someone that I could be proud of. Those strong, special, generous, loving women that I call my own would never let me be less than one of them. And that is a precious gift.

So, to all of you, to the girls whose lipstick I steal in the toilets, to the ones who bring me wine and sympathy when I can’t stop crying, to the ones that tell me I’m a sassy, beautiful queen when I feel anything but: I love you. I love you more than I’ve loved any boy. I love you when you are slaying in your best clothes, I love you when you’re crying in some dickhead’s old jumper. You are special, you are everything I dreamed of, you are strong and courageous. I’m proud to know you. I’m proud to call you my own.