A heartfelt plea to friends and young people everywhere – please, don’t listen to Russell Brand!

There are a great deal of people on various social media feeds today sharing the Jeremy Paxman/Russell Brand interview with declarations of affinity for Brand’s ‘fuck the system’ attitude. If you haven’t seen the interview (link below) it really is worth a watch, Brand makes some very good points and Paxman really does have the most wonderful beard, but the comedian’s ultimate message is one that infuriates me into an uncontrollable typing frenzy (exhibit A).
I’m all for raising political awareness and encouraging people to voice any disillusion they might have with the current political climate, as I hope was Brand’s ultimate motive, but by encouraging people not to vote he will do more harm than good.
However broken the system may be it is the only one we have and by not voting you may do more damage than you can imagine – every vote wasted by the young and socio-economically deprived might as well be a vote for the Tories. I’m not saying vote for the best of a bad bunch, spoil your ballot paper if you must, but for your own sake vote!
As Sinn Fein say, vote early and vote often!

It’s the only way your voice will be heard no matter how angry your tone. Its all well and good for Russell Brand to sit in a cosy hotel room enjoying the luxuries of his fame while denouncing the political system but we won’t all have the opportunity to announce our discontent so publicly, no matter how many Facebook friends like our online rants or shares of this interview (yes I am aware of the irony, thank you). We can mouth all we want on social media about the ‘lies, treachery and deceit’ but unless you go out and vote with your feet in the next general election in 2015 it will count for absolutely nothing.

Get on the electoral register and vote.
For anyone who still believes that voting won’t make a damn bit of difference, open a history book to any page and enlighten yourself to how much better things would be if people had decided not to vote on issues such as health, education, welfare, justice, social equality or foreign policy.
In particular I’d ask all women and Northern Irish Catholics to bear in mind the struggle and human sacrifice that was made for your right to vote.
The system still isn’t perfect but Christ, its been a hell of a lot worse.

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One Billion Rising.

I’m Rising Because…

I was brought up by a father who taught me never to take shit from any man, not even from him. My mother, and all the women in my family, have been the greatest examples of strength and courage even just in their day to day lives. They never fail to amaze me. I’m rising because these women, and millions like them around the world, just get on with things. They work hard, they shoulder every heartache, every trouble but they don’t stop, life goes on, they must go on with it.

I was brought up believing that women have an equal right to life and happiness, and that if anything, they work harder, strive further, and deserve more than men. But I know that not every young girl is taught this growing up, not every young girl is lucky enough.

I’m rising because all across the world today, young girls will see their mothers, aunts, sisters, rise up and dance for One Billion Rising, and it might be the first time they’ve ever seen them dance, ever seen them rise up against the violence or suffering of women, ever seen them make a stand against anything.

I’m rising because, for the last few months I’ve been trying to write a piece about feminism and its continuing importance in the world today, but every day, the piece gets longer and longer, because every day a new story breaks. Whether it is the gang rape of a female student in India or the death of a woman in Ireland who was refused an abortion, or a Christmas advert from Virgin Mobile in America that normalises, even makes a mockery of sexual assault against women.

A disturbing culture has grown out of this kind of advertising, or perhaps the advert is a result of a wider normalisation of these attitudes. Young men, and women, make jokes about sexual assault, abuse, rape every day that suggest that this kind of violence against women is not only normal, but funny.

Recently I read a study which compared the comments of convicted rapists with those made in lads mags (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/the-womens-blog-with-jane-martinson/2011/dec/09/lad-mags-rapists-study). Half the people surveyed couldn’t tell the difference between the two, and can we pretend to be shocked? How often have we heard the ludicrous words “She was asking for it”?

I’ve confronted people who’ve made these kind of lads jokes in the past, and the most common response? “Lighten up”.

I don’t know any of those kind of jokes, but I have got a pretty good punchline…

One in three women will be raped and beaten in her lifetime.

Anyone laughing?

I’m rising because no women anywhere, ever “asked for it”.

I’m rising because the only time a man ever tried to hit me I hit him back twice as hard. But I know that not every woman will be able to fight back, we all have to fight for her.

How to be a Woman… apparantly.

As we shimmy into June, unsure as to whether we should be keeping emergency sun cream or brollies in our bags, it’s a little unnerving just how quickly the year is flying in.

It’s only June and the summer could already be over for all we know, Christmas is only round the corner!

Browsing over this year’s resolutions, it’s just as unnerving to realise how very little I’ve actually achieved so far in 2012. I have yet to stop biting my nails, get my driving licence or win the Euro millions.

I can’t even keep up with my Good Reads Challenge as I am rudely reminded every time I log in to update my ever-expanding ‘want to read’ list. Emma, it tells me, at your current pace, you’re three books behind if you want to reach your reading target for 2012.

Yes Good Reads, I say, I know, but you tell me how I can squeeze in any more books to my busy schedule of work, study and social life I’ll gladly take your advice.

At present, I have five novels and one collection of short stories on my bedside table – including Pride and Prejudice, which I am re-reading for the nth time at my leisure.

Of the books I have managed to finish so far this year, there is a clear front-runner for favourite, not only of the year, but of life.

Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a Woman’ is not just a book, it’s a life lesson.

I implore every woman to read it, and have been passing it around my friends since finishing it in the space of a flight home – the Liverpool to Derry commute is about half an hour.

It’s a hilariously frank insight into Moran’s journey towards becoming a Woman, warts and all as they say. We are all women (or half of us at least) but becoming a Woman is something much greater.

I arrogantly thought I had become a Woman after graduating from university.

I had a degree, a flat that didn’t have the grimy charm of student-housing, I had two jobs, I was paying taxes, and making a grand attempt at being a “real person”. I was such a Woman!

Of course I wasn’t… you realise these things when you wake up with a bucket by your bed and patchy memories of a bottle of Baileys.

Because Women, with a capital W, do not jolt awake on a Saturday morning with a splitting, empty, head and a cement-mixer stomach. They don’t spend the rest of the day wallowing on the sofa eating giant bags of Heat Wave Doritos and groaning nonsensically.

Women come to life in a glorious bloom of sunshine, they slide out of bed and dance to the kitchen on tiptoe. They sit at a sun-bathed balcony table with a floral centre piece, reading the morning papers and drinking peppermint tea, pinky out.

I have so very far to go…

I am a 23-year-old woman who still cannot wear heels. I drink pints. I have footballer’s knees. My sneezes sound like volcanic explosions. And I have all the grace and elegance of a baby elephant on roller skates.

Not quite the awe-inspiring image of Women which grace the pages of our glossy magazines. And yes, I know, it’s all air-brushing and good lighting – this has nothing to do with body image – please, I’m a goddess!

It’s the seemingly effortless grace with which these women exist.

It doesn’t take air-brushing or make-up artists to make these Women beautiful or elegant – it’s a certain composure they have naturally which makes a pony-tail high maintenance or checked shirts sexy rather than lesbian chic.

I know these women exist without a team of fashion and beauty experts at hand before they leave the house, because I see them, every day! They parade past me in the morning, glamorous, driven, in control… while I yawn past them with bags under my eyes and an unbrushed mane.

Real Women are those fiercely elegant creatures who strut out of Tesco Express in heels and shades with a trendy shopper and a vintage satchel bag swinging on one arm, a coffee in the other.

I scutter along behind them, bent over and weighed down with awkwardly shaped bags, sweat already dripping from my brow, the top button of my shirt beginning to lose the battle against the cross-body strap of my bag.

Real Women seem to illuminate dance floors, the crowd parting to admire their beauty and poise while I, in the corner, demonstrate the Carlton Dance in high-tops, with a pint glass in hand.

I bet these Women have no problem squeezing another book into their busy schedules of work, study, social life and being generally fabulous.

How to be a Woman?

I’ve just about managed to paint my fingernails an inoffensive dusky pink colour without causing myself an injury –   I’m getting there. And it might help me stop biting my nails…

An Old Romantic

I have a confession to make.

A confession some may find hard to believe, particularly if they’ve ever had the pleasure of my Rottweiler-like customer service at work.

But here it is.

I am an old romantic.

I call it a confession because it seems in this day and age ‘Romance’ has become a dirty word.

Romance, in its truest, traditional, black and white sense has, ironically, been wiped off the face of the earth by a change in culture that we threw ourselves in front of horses to achieve.

It’s a clash of interests that tugs on my own inner conflict. I’m an old romantic but I am also, thanks to a matriarchal upbringing, and a very good education in Women’s Literature, a feminist.

I firmly believe that women should receive equality in all aspects of work and life… but then I’m also a sucker for good old-fashioned chivalry, and unfortunately, the two seem to contradict each other. We can’t exactly storm the streets on Slut Marches, burning our bras, just to reach the pub afterwards and complain that some guy didn’t hold the door open for us. By the same standards we would be expected to curtsy, and you certainly shouldn’t go around curtsying without a bra on!

Worse still, any gentlemanly gestures women do receive these days are so sparse and surprising we usually confuse them as sleazy. Granted, they often are, but it’s a sad state of affairs all the same.

It’s not often that I’ll commend any traditional belief or custom that comes out of Texas, but I relish the opportunity to serve our resident Texan at the bar, because when he says “Thank-you Ma’am” in his soft-spoken way, something inside me sings!

Something I inherited from my ancestors along with the womb and utter dependence on Tea and Chocolate, something that has grown tired and dormant through years of seclusion and neglect. All women, and men too, have it in there somewhere among the mess of hormones and internal organs, it is our old romantic, twiddling its thumbs in the faint hope that the Gentlemen and the Dandies will make a revolutionary comeback, wearing buttonholes and helping us in and out of carriages. Ah those were the days of sweet social constraint.

Yes, I know it doesn’t make any sense.

It’s the same reason that some of the world’s finest Feminist activists have a soft spot for Jane Austen and read Cosmo every month. We’re women; we are genetically built to contradict ourselves. And it’s romance’s fault.

But I still love it.

I am in love with love. I am in love with the flowers and chocolates and declarations of love from below the balcony. I adore stories of star-crossed lovers, doomed romances, the Hollywood kisses, and the black and white movies, Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Yes it’s all very old-fashioned and cheesy but it would be nice to indulge in it once in a while.

At the age of 23 I can count my truly romantic experiences on one hand and even they are nothing to write a Rom-Com about. And most of these experiences, like most of any life-experience worth talking about, happened under the influence. It is a very lovely thing to be slow-danced down the middle of the Railway Road on a Saturday night but it’s not something either of us would have attempted in the cold light of day.

Young girls are brought up on a diet of fairytales and Prince Charming. Shrek brought it all to light a few years ago. Fiona grew up dreaming of the gallant knight who would slay the dragon and rescue her from the tower, yes she ends up marrying the ogre, but he still performs all the courageous duties of a hero to win her over.

And what is the modern age equivalent?

At the young and impressionable age of 17 my heart was won over on a tipsy walk home from the pub, when my childhood sweetheart risked life and death to run into the immaculate garden of an evil monster and snatch the perfect, beautiful, and singular Lily that took pride of place in the centre of the floral display.

I’m sure the ‘evil monster’ was in fact a lovely old woman whose garden, and in particular her prize lily, was her pride and joy, but I had to make myself feel mildly better about taking her pride and joy as a token of my young love.

That is the height of my romantic existence. And while the relationship powered on for another few years, the romance, like the lily, didn’t live very long.

Real life doesn’t give us much time for true romance or old-fashioned chivalry but it does exist. And despite all the evidence to the contrary, I endeavour to believe in true romance.

Yes, I am a contradiction. I won’t be anybody’s damsel in distress, let’s be honest, I am more likely to be mistaken for the dragon. I will not be found at the top of a tower sighing longingly at the thoughts of Prince Charming.

But I expect nothing less than a knight in shining armour.