Friday, 17 February 2017

Amnesty International asked about online abuse. Here's what I had to say.

Amnesty International put a call out on Twitter asking women about their experiences of online abuse. Here's what I sent to them...

The incident I reported to the police happened on Facebook. I'd been involved in a campaign around the normalisation of sexual objectification in Bristol, which had attracted a lot of local press attention. I was the spokesperson so was very visible. Things built up and eventually a young man posted on Facebook that I was a cunt, he was going to post my address details online and 'make me pay'. I wrote about this for the Guardian at the time.

Another man joked about kicking me in the vagina.

That's the stand out incident, but online abuse happens all the time. I wrote about abortion issues and I had a man call me a 'fucking baby killer'. This particular individual targeted me repeatedly, commenting on every blogpost I wrote. He'd start off polite then it would build up until he'd call me names such as 'fucking feminazi bitch'

He had a really common name. Every time I saw that name afterwards it would make me really uncomfortable. Once I saw his name in a conference line-up and had a real triggered reaction. It wasn't the same man but the same name. I know the man who used to comment on my blog worked in academia and it bothers me that he might work with students when his attitudes to women are so disgusting and violent.

I wrote about Fathers 4 Justice and a man in the comments said he hoped 'some cunt raped' me, because I was a 'fucking fascist'.

More recently I've experienced the 'pile on'. I tweeted a joke about Boris Johnson and had around 200 @ messages in an hour ranging from the mild (of the 'you stupid feminist bitch' variety) to the obscene (men saying what they would do to me sexually). On another occasion I deleted a tweet after within 5 minutes I had 5 @ messages all quoting the tweet, and all the avatars were naked pictures of men.

More recently I tweeted about an Amazon advert and a man told me to drink a bottle of floor cleaner, alongside the usual sexist slurs.

The scary thing about pile-ons is you don't know when they will stop. After the Boris Johnson joke I was still getting unpleasant messages 24 hours later. You feel very vulnerable, you feel like this is it now, it's never going to stop.

I feel that when people excuse men's behaviour online, they resort to the line 'he didn't think you were a real person, it's just online so it's not real'. I think this is nonsense. It is just another form of victim blaming. It re-enforces the message that women are not human. It says that women cause the problem by being online.

I've had rape threats, death threats, threats to my safety, been called names, had men send obscene images, had men fantasise about what they would do to me sexually. They didn't do this thinking it wasn't real. They did this to bully, intimidate and most importantly of all to silence me.

I won't be silenced.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

How the Remain campaign broke all the rules of advertising

So last night parliament voted that we would trigger Article 50 with none of the amendments proposed - including amendments that would guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, and protect the Good Friday agreement. 

There’s a lot of anger flying around today. A lot of people angry with Corbyn and Labour, a lot of people angry with May and the Tories, a lot of people angry with UKIP and Farage. And, I imagine, a lot of people are thrilled with May and the Tories and with UKIP and Farage and, to be honest, ambivalent about Corbyn and Labour. 

I’m angry, though. And today I am particularly angry with David Cameron for calling the blasted referendum in the first place - a man whose arrogance and hubris led him to stake the future of the country on an internal party battle that barely anyone outside of the Commons Back Benches gave a flying fuck about. 

And I’m angry with the Remain gang for their lack-lustre, doom-laden campaign in the run-up to the 23rd June. I’m angry with them because they could have won the referendum. They just needed to hire a decent advertising agency. 

So here is my post about how I could have won the EU Referendum, if the Remain campaign had hired a fundraising copywriter from Bristol

I’d start with this picture:

This is a picture of me and my niece the day she was born. My sister-in-law is Romanian. Thanks to the free movement of people, my beautiful niece and nephew are in my life. My family is made richer because of the EU. My nephew’s school is made brighter with him in it. In the future, my niece and nephew will get jobs that will bring money into the UK economy. Already, their childish needs are causing us all to spend money (mostly on lego) - strengthening the UK economy. Who knows what their futures will hold, who knows what contributions they will make to our country. 

Who knows what futures in the UK will be lost now, when we leave the EU and new families can’t be made, new romances will never blossom, new babies will not be born and new futures will not develop and grow. 

In the 2012 film NO starring the delightful Gael Garcia-Bernal, Chile calls a referendum on whether Pinochet should stand down. The No campaign (calling for Pinochet to go) immediately start putting ads together showcasing the terrible human rights abuses perpetuated by the Chilean government. They put together showreels of mass graves and torture prisons. It was horrible. It was depressing. It was never going to win votes. 

Enter Gael Garcia-Bernal. He proposed a campaign that would show what life would be like without Pinochet. He shot films of families having wonderful days out. He created a vision of freedom. He suggested a better world, a happier world, where everyone had a voice and a life of their own to live and love. He promised a better future. 

'No' won the referendum. 

People voted for a better future. 

This is what the Remain campaign should have done. 

Not just a picture of my niece. 

But a case study of a cancer patient whose life-saving treatment was funded by EU money. 

Of a crime survivor whose perpetrator was arrested thanks to cross EU participation. 

Of an artist or writer or film maker whose work was produced with the help of EU funds.

Of a farmer who was able to expand their agriculture business because of EU subsidies. 

Of a student completing a placement in Venice. 

Of a worker collaborating with a team in Bucharest. 

Of a pensioner enjoying retirement in Spain. 

Of a couple finding their way around France using 3G without roaming charges. 

They should have celebrated how being part of Europe enriched the UK. They should have told the positive story. The story of families brought together, of jobs created, of creative arts enriched, of science advanced.

They should have sold us a future we could believe in and vote for. 

The EU wasn’t perfect. Isn’t perfect. Remain and reform - that’s what was needed (although my reforms probably not the ones Cameron was after). And I know my layers of protective privilege mean that I have not been impacted by the problems EU membership can cause.  

But the Remain campaign did nothing to tell us why we should stay in the EU. All they did was tell us how much we would suffer if we left. They were giving us the mass graves of the Chilean campaign, while the Leave guys played the Gael-Garcia Bernal game. 

Having worked in advertising for nearly a decade, I have learnt a thing or two. And one of the things we all know is that you don’t try and sell things by telling people how bad everything is. You don’t sell a car by saying the other cars are shit. You sell a car by making people think that the car will make them better, sexier, cooler, faster, dreamier. You sell on the benefits of your car, not the failings of the competitor.  

The same applies for fundraising advertising. Sometimes you fundraise with upsetting images or heartbreaking stories. But successful fundraising never leads on ‘give now or the kid gets it.’ You tell a positive story about what a person’s donation can achieve. You tell them about the child’s transformed life - you show them the difference school can make, you show a child happy and healthy drinking clean water. You don’t say everything will be awful if you don’t give. You say everything will be better if you do give. 

The Remain campaign broke every single simple rule of advertising. They led on dire predictions. They sold Remain as the lesser of two evils. Rather than selling Remain as something that would be good for the UK, they focused on how Leave would be bad for the UK. 

No one votes for something because it might be shit but probably not as shit as the other thing. No one buys a car because it might break down but probably won’t break down as much as the other one. No one gives to charity because the kid might die but then again she might not. 

You vote for something because you believe it will bring a better future. You buy a car because you think it’ll make you look better. You give to charity because you believe it’ll transform a life. 

Of course, a better ad campaign would not have changed the minds of those determined to vote Brexit. But there were people who were on the fence, who might have had their minds changed to Remain. They were let down by a weak, lack lustre, doom-laden advertising campaign. They were not given something to vote for. 

As we face a Tory Hard Brexit, I feel so angry with how badly the Remain campaign let this country down with their predictions of World War Three and economic meltdown. 

It would have been so easy to tell the positive story of Remain. To celebrate the EU and good things it brings. 

They failed. 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Interview in Bristol 24/7

Lovely lovely Joe Melia interviewed me about the Spike Island residency for Bristol 24/7

It''s also in the print edition so look out for my face lurking around...

Have a read

Saturday, 28 January 2017

New book: ...and Paris is my hometown

Exciting news!

As part of my Spike Island residency, I have published an eBook of biographical essays about the women of 1920s Paris.

It's called ...and Paris is my hometown

which is a Gertrude Stein quote.

The majority of the essays were published by The Heroine Collective throughout 2016 and I am very grateful to their lovely editor Kate Kerrow for contributing the Foreword to the collection. There are some extra exciting tidbits in the anthology though so it's worth your time!

...and Paris is my hometown includes essays celebrating the life and work of Gertrude Stein, Colette, Sylvia Beach, Josephine Baker, Kiki de Montparnasse and many, many more.

Please purchase the book today.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

For Trump supporters, freedom of speech was only ever for straight, white men

Ten years ago today I set up my blog! To celebrate my Ten Year Blog-a-versary I am writing about freedom of speech, which I am exercising by writing this blog. 

The signs were there. Of course they were. When Putin, Erdogan and Sisi – leaders known for locking up journalists at alarming rates – are among the first to congratulate your Presidency, attacks on freedom of speech won’t be far behind. 

Still, day four? 

Before I went to bed last night, I saw that journalists in the USA had been arrested during the protests on Friday 20 January. These journalists were doing their job: reporting and recording a news story. Whatever happens next in their case, it’ll be harder now for journalists to report on protest in the USA. It’ll be riskier, and so fewer protests will be recorded.

Around the same time, Trump’s administration banned employees of the Environmental Protection Agency from posting on social media. As a result, environmentalists have ‘gone rogue’ in a strange new world where ‘going rogue’ means using your professional social media account to tweet facts about the environment. Trump has done this in part to keep things quiet about the Dakota pipeline  – a development he has business interests in and which will do terrible harm to the environment and wreck First Nation land.

The signs were there.

Freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech was always, it seemed, so important to Trump supporters. When you condemned them for sending racist and sexist abuse to a woman who had the temerity to be funny in an 80s movie remake, they yelled ‘freedom of speech!’ at you. When you pointed out that Breitbart was a cesspit of racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic lies, they yelled ‘freedom of speech!’ at you. When you asked them not to send rape threats to women gamers, or suggested they didn’t scream ‘lock up the bitch’ about HRC, they yelled ‘freedom of speech’ at you. They condemned political correctness as an attack on freedom of speech. They liked Trump for ‘saying the unsayable’ – as if saying racist and sexist lies have ever been ‘edgy’, have ever been anything but the norm.

But to these Trump supporters, freedom of speech only ever meant freedom of speech for one group of people: privileged straight white men.

They saw freedom and liberty as a zero sum game. And when women, people of colour and the LGBT community raised their voices and claimed their right for freedom of speech, they saw it as an attack on their so-called freedom to use language to abuse, intimidate and threaten oppressed communities.

They support Trump because they see anyone else being given freedom of speech as an attack on their freedom of speech. They see other groups using their voices in protest, in solidarity, in honesty, as an attack on them. Now Trump’s policies are sending a clear message: he will repress freedom of speech. Where is their defence of this fundamental right now?

It’s not just journalist arrests and bans on tweeting.

Trump’s reinstatement of the global gag rule denies women the speech to say ‘I need reproductive healthcare’ and denies charities the speech to say ‘we can support you in that.’ It denies freedom of speech to women all over the world, the speech to say their bodies are their own. Ultimately, this ruling will lead to more women dying – silencing them totally.

Trump’s signing of an executive order to ban visas to people from Iran and war-torn countries including Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Iraq denies freedom of speech to people asking for safety, for support, for a home. It denies freedom to those who already have their basic freedoms under attack.

And the Texas Supreme Court’s proposal to roll back on equal marriage rights denies gay people the freedom of speech to say ‘I love you’ and ‘I do’ in public, before friends and family.

All those Trump supporters screaming freedom of speech to yell ‘kill the bitch’ at Hillary. All those Trump supporters screaming freedom of speech at Twitter for banning Milo. Where are their voices now, that freedom of speech is truly under threat?

They’re silent, of course.

They never believed in freedom of speech at all. They only ever wanted to silence the voices of those who for so long had been denied it.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

For BBC Radio Bristol: Why we protest

I was on BBC Radio Bristol yesterday morning talking about why I joined the Women's March in London.

I would argue that it is impossible to have a sensible discussion with someone who compares being accused of sexual assault by multiple women is like being accused of not liking courgettes.

But that is the situation I found myself in.

I'm about 30-40 minutes into the show if you want to listen.

I also contributed to this piece in the Wales Arts Review on why we marched. 

For Open Democracy: Guapa by Saleem Haddad

I reviewed Haddad's excellent debut, Guapa, for Open Democracy.

It's a brilliant read about the LGBT community in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Have a read.