When you expose a problem you pose a problem

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The title of this blog comes from the book Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed. I made the mistake this week of posting in a public group about my disappointment that the local paper, the Evening Mail, failed in its report on the recent Keswick to Barrow 40 mile run/walk event to name the top three women finishers, despite naming the top three men. To be honest, I didn’t think I was saying anything particularly controversial – just pointing something out that could be addressed by adding one line of text to an article. I didn’t, and still don’t feel that anything negative could possibly come out of including women’s names.

You can cause unhappiness by noticing something. And if you can cause unhappiness by noticing something, you realise that the world you are in is not the world you thought you were in.

I caused a whole world of unhappiness by noticing this. Lots of people – men and women objected to the suggestion that the efforts of the top three women should have been acknowledged. Over and over again people told me that talking about naming women distracted attention from the fact that it was a charity event (doesn’t seem to harm the London Marathon), that the top three finishers just happened to be men (and they always will be unless we get an Olympic athlete rocking up to Barrow who just happens to be female).

Eventually, I had to turn off the comments on my post, and turn off the notifications.

We make things bigger by refusing to make things smaller

One friend posted a seperate post in support – that post was still going three days later and coming up to nearly 40 comments now with people telling her how wrong she is.  My twin sister is enjoying arguing with these people – my beautiful brave twin sister who would not stand and listen and say nothing, even though I told her not to get involved.

I’m too upset to look back at any of the posts now. Does how it felt to me matter? If I use words like bullying, like ganging up, is that an unfair accusation or is that my lived experience? I’m unsure now. If you are one person speaking up about something, and nobody else agrees, then maybe it will always feel like you’re being ganged up on. But thinking back now, without looking back at the post (because I can’t) one man offering his services as a lawyer to sue the paper was a way of getting me to shut up, a way of trying to humiliate me, a way of saying what you are pointing out does not matter. Men (and women) sharing pictures of their daughters saying ‘X did the walk for charity, not to get their name in the paper’ was designed to imply that I was merely interested in glory, and not in the more noble cause of raising money for charity, despite the fact that it wasn’t, was never about my name.  And this is another shaming technique.  Men and women asking why couldn’t I just be happy to be part of a great event – and look how happy we all are just to be here.  And this is another shaming technique

Happiness as a form of emotional labor can be condensed in the formula: making others happy by appearing happy.

There are ways to be a woman, and complaining about a system is not one of them. Complaining about injustice is not one of them. And having an opinion on social media and being a woman is a dangerous thing. It can end with having to turn your phone off because the constant comments are making you feel ill and anxious. I know that everything gets magnified on social media, that people say things they wouldn’t say to someone in person.

My friend N. pointed out to me that it was only thirty or so years ago that the first woman Kathrine Switzer ran the Boston marathon and was verbally and physically attacked because it was thought that women weren’t capable of running a marathon.

She pointed out that sport and the world of sport (and the pursuit of hbbies/interests/passions) have always been created for and dominated by men. I think about my hobbies/my interests – when I was younger, I played in brass bands.  One of the top bands in the country, Brighouse and Rastrick, finally appointed a female cornet player for the first time in their 130 year old history in 2011.  The brass band I grew up in had plenty of women in it and I would never say that brass bands don’t welcome women now (although I would say in my experience you have to be twice as good as the men to be thought of as half as good) but the world of brass banding (and running – my other hobby) was never set up for women, although women move through these worlds now, because of their tenacity and insistence.  And no, we are not told that we cannot join, we cannot run, not in so many words, but the fact that women’s achievement is ignored is one way of making our way through these worlds feel like wading through quicksand.

And what does it matter anyway? There are bigger things to worry about in the world. But how can we talk about rape when we can’t even agree that women should receive the same acknowledgement in a sporting event? How can we talk about domestic violence and helping victims when we can’t stand up for our friends online? How can we talk about sexism when we can’t even agree what it is?

This blog post has sat in my draft folder for over a week now.  At first I thought I wouldn’t post it at all.  Then I started  looking through Twitter today, following the #hometovote tweets from women travelling from across the world back to Ireland to vote to repeal the eighth amendment.  There is something beautiful in these women (and men) coming back home with welcoming parties at the airports – the reverse of the journey many women have to make to have an abortion abroad.  So this is one of the bigger things – bigger than speaking out about a stupid newspaper article – but you know and I know that everything is linked.  Women having autonomy and choice over what happens to their bodies is linked inextricably with women’s bodies being ignored, written out of history.  The silencing of women’s achievement is linked inextricably with the silencing of women’s voices.

I return again and again to Sara Ahmed, who sometimes feels like a lifeline. All of the quotes above are taken from her book Living a Feminist Life.  She talks about ‘Feminist Survival Kits’. This poem, from one of my dearest friends, and a woman who continually inspires me would be in my survival kit, because this week I’ve finally realised that I don’t believe in silence either.  And no, I won’t shut up.  And no, I won’t stop noticing.

To buy Head On, the collection of poetry that this poem comes from, head over to the Bloodaxe website http://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/product/head-on-1046.  Clare also has a third collection Flood, coming very soon.

 

I Don’t Believe in Silence – Clare Shaw

Because, tonight –
however I try – I cannot get downstairs
without waking my daughter
I do not believe in silence.

Because of the Worboys enquiry,
because of the one hundred-plus women he raped –
because of the policeman defending the findings
unable to utter the word –
‘this (herrrm) crime, this (ahem)
assault, this category (cough)
of offence’ –
I do not believe in silence

because of the stairs and the banister’s crack;
the sound of the lock
and my hand on the door – the fifty-tone creak –
the magnificent echo of light-switch and click –
I do not believe in silence.

Because of Neda – and everyone’s sister –
and the man who said ‘Don’t be afraid’;
for the sake of my daughter, because of the burka,
because of the patter of rain;
because of two hundred thousand years of human history,
thirty-seven of them my own –
I do not believe in silence

for the sake of my arms, the wrists especially.
With respect to my legs
and my belly and chest
and the comfort long due to my throat

because of nightclubs at one a.m
and shouts in the street and feet in pursuit
and shops that don’t shut;
because of sirens and the dealers downstairs;
because of Levi and Akhmatova;
because of the itch of the blue-lipped prisoner;
the itch and the scratch of my pen;

I believe in the word.
I believe in the scrabble of claws
on uncarpeted floors.
I believe in my daughter’s complaints.
I believe in the violin, the E-string,
the see-sawing bow; the cello
straining its throat.

I believe in the heart and its beat
and its beep and the dance of the trace
on the screen, I believe in the volume
of colour turned up, and my blood
which was always too loud.

Because of the nights, and the sweats,
and the same rowdy thoughts;
because of that one afternoon
when I nailed my own voice to the air
and because there was nobody listening
and through it all
bird song
and the sound of cars passing –

I do not believe in silence.

Because, tonight –
however I try – I cannot

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27 responses »

  1. Oh Kim, I am so glad you wrote this & that this abuse is still happening in 2018 is just unbelievable. We are to be taking one step forward with movements such as #metoo & #hometovte

  2. To continue pressed return! ! We are taking one step forward but in many ways with the rise of such as Trump we are taking two steps backwards. We have to speak up but it’s not always easy. I think that’s why I find other women attacking women so hard. Off course we will have different views but let them be expressed with courtesy & kindness. Well done for speaking out about this & you were right to.

  3. You did right, Kim, making that point to the newspaper. And that message will have reached many others who might not have commented online, but who listened and accepted what you said. Imagine their ‘weight’ too☺.
    And the poem is a powerful expression, the words, the rhythm of it.
    Solidarity to you!
    Moira x

      • Having been on the receiving end of complaints about unfair reporting in newspapers, I may be of some help here. You may, of course, have decided precisely what you want from the paper, in which case, read no further. But my suggestion would be to go beyond an apology and on to something that creates the ‘feel-good factor’ that was sadly missing from the original report.
        I’ll leave it at that, rather than banging on, but you know where I am if you want to pick my brains about newspapers.

  4. It was a poor newspaper article – like a serving of gravy without the Yorkshire pudding. A piano accompaniment without the singer. It was written in the style of a ‘background article’ which looks at the stories behind the news but there wasn’t a substantive news article for it to support. The news bit – the facts and figures – was shoehorned into the background article itself. That resulted not only in an inelegant clash of genres but a woefully inadequate news report.

  5. Well done for writing this Kim. The sad irony of the many voices on social media is that we still seem to get two sides BUT it is never a debate, and is so vicious. It makes it so easy to be prejudiced for these people when they are sat at home and don’t have to see the impact their words have. Much love to you. Peter x

  6. Many, many would, and probably do, agree with you, Kim. It is the ardent naysayers who must have their twopenneth, and, in imho, skew the world that is. Love the poem, and the description of the Irishwomen going home to vote against the eighth. I’m with you. 💖

  7. Thank you, Kim, for saying what you said and doing what you did. We have a long way to go as a society – I’m running a creative writing workshop tomorrow inspired by the suffragettes and in doing my research it was how they were silenced that upset me the most, quotes about how they tried to ask questions and the men just smiled and said nothing, laughed at them. We won’t be silent any more. Xx

    • Thanks Tania for the support. Yes, I watched the film about the suffragettes (can’t remember what it ws called)and it was those little indignities that really shocked me actually. Good luck with your workshop, I’m sure you will be brilliant.

  8. I hear you, Kim! Your blog and especially your poem really resonate with me. Thanks for your ears, your eyes, your brilliant brain and, especially, your voice. Do not be silent.

  9. Hello Kim
    I came by this when my wife Sheila read out your account and mentioned you were also on WP, I wished therefore to add my support for you.
    In comparison with the amount of support, advice and friendliness which abounds in the literary village of the WP world FB is a place overpopulated with folk of limited outlooks and mean-spirits, who have little better to do with their time but pollute with toxicity. From my recent experiences and witnessing of the quality of FB posts although angered at this pillorying of your actual harmless observation, I was not surprised. It matters not what one says there will always be some shallow pack to hound you. I can understand your twin sister’s reaction, I would do the same.
    You did no more than make a passing comment which was a fair observation, almost a casual statement in the scheme of things as one would comment about a thousand and one observed imbalances. Were it possible to look into the comments of these emotionally hyperventilating sorts you would find them making similar statements about their own perceived disparities.
    This is where WP soars above the drudge and sludge of FB, I was so pleased to see the number of likes and messages of support on your WP post. It is a subject I have posted several times, here in WP everyone is willing to help, chat and (it bears repeating) support. This is a place of the fresh air of freedom of expression. I daresay WP folk see things on the blogs they don’t like or agree with, but at least they have the good manners and common sense to simply not visit or comment.
    As a writer, blogger and WP inhabitant I sincerely wish you all the very best for the future.
    Best wishes
    Roger
    (aka on FB: A fascist. An idiot. A shill. A closed mind,.. There were some others but I got so bored they quite slipped my memory)
    Keep on keeping!

    • Hi – thanks for the support and this message – I really appreciate it. I think FB on my own personal page is usually supportive – as Iam very picky over who I am friends with – but in this instance, I posted on a public group page, which is where I ran into big problems! But anyway thanks again for the message – Ireally do appreciate it x

  10. That’s quite shocking, Kim, how threatened some people feel by a woman raising her head above the parapet, even in such a mild way. To post their daughters’ photos online and speak for them too..that’s a bit strange. It could be a very unsettled parent trying to drum in a message to the daughter that it won’t go well for them in the world if they copy you. And a rather underhand way of shaming you for your opinion. They say people who use shaming as a weapon have often been shamed themselves in their earlier years. As an aside, my weekly parkrun gives men and women separate placings, as well as overall placings, and an age/gender specific rating, and that’s all taken for granted. Hope in a few years time it’ll be the default way to do all events.

    • Hi Ruth – thanks for commenting! Yes our park run does this too, and most running races I’ve been in are fine. It was the reporting of the event that was so bias, not the event itself, which I have nothing but praise for – it was very well organised.

  11. Kim I so understand and support all you say. We must speak even when it is not popular. I had a similar issue last year when I won the Stanley Spencer poetry competition and the local press showed photos of the second prize winner (male) but not me! I complained and met with the usual condescension. I have experienced similar things through the years, in universities too, explored in my memoir. The truth is we still live in a patriarchy. And the truth is, block by concrete block, it is crumbling. Thanks to us. It is our responsibility to do this. This is work as important as any other. We too. Xx

    • Hi Rosie – thanks for the comment. That is an appalling story r.e the Spencer competition! And I completely agree about it being our responsibilty – it feels like that is something I’m just starting to truly understand x x

  12. Excellent article, thank you for posting it. I have experienced similar attempts to silence and humiliate me on social media in the past, especially when I had the absolute temerity to comment on a football match (involving a premier league team that I’m a season ticket holder for, and the majority of whose games I attend). No matter – how dare i, a woman, have a view.
    I’ve also run into the problems that you describe of upsetting other women by either being too feminist, or not feminist enough. The backlash in #MeToo is part of that – older women saying that they had all put up with ‘trivial’ harassment and younger women should pull themselves together (or words to that effect).
    I’m one of those older women, and for me it wasn’t trivial, but it was something that you had to accept. At university rejecting your tutor’s advances could mean the end of your career hopes. Then there was nobody to turn to. We shouldn’t EVER put up with something that we find bullying, unpleasant, scary, humiliating, invasive, silencing. It is horrible when that stuff comes from men, but I find it infinitely more silencing and diminishing when it comes from other women, so thanks again for sharing. Yours in female solidarity, Diana

  13. Well done, Kim, and thanks for a stirring and beautiful post that reiterates to me, ‘each woman must stand up because of our gender.’ Otherwise, nothing will ever change, and heck, does it need to change, as indeed I know to my cost.

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