Saturday, 26 May 2012

Being Flattered vs. Being Followed.

 Yesterday, the results of a survey commissioned by the End Violence Against Women Committee  (EVAW) were published. The results, while wholly unacceptable, wouldn’t surprise many women. 21% of women had experienced unwanted sexual attention, and 43% of young women had experienced sexual harassment in public. In fact, I’d argue that these figures are puzzlingly low.

Ask any female about this kind of thing, and you’ll get an extensive list of anecdotes. Being beeped at my white van men, being groped in clubs. It’s all part of being a woman, apparently.  Just something to put up with, not something anything can be done about. Chin up ladies, it’s supposed to be a compliment, after all.

What’s probably most frightening about this kind of attention is how women seemingly marginalise it, despite it being uncomfortable and unwanted. I know this from experience, and my experiences aren’t particularly exceptional.

I’ve bought tops and never worn them again once some drunken stranger has attempted to see what would happen if he unzipped me. I’ve phoned male friends at three in the morning while walking home, just so that the group of men lingering outside the kebab shop don’t think that I’m unaccounted for.  I’ve had grown men jeer at me in bars. I’ve been called a slag for confronting some drunken ugly bugger for grabbing my arse in the pub I meet my friends in regularly. It was me who left the pub, not him.

Yet worryingly, I’ve never considered my experiences “that bad”. In comparison with some shocking tales you hear, these things are trivial and barely worth complaining about. They’re just small instances that have happened and don’t ultimately matter. Some would argue that I’m pretty lucky to not have gone through worse. This attitude is just wrong. What would happen if a man was being inappropriately touched while queuing at a bar? Or if he overheard a group of people making smart comments about what he was wearing? It’s not too difficult to imagine a brawl ensuing. But when it happens to a woman, we all just put our head down and try to see the funny side. I can get a bit shouty and angry about women’s issues (as my friends will happily attest to), but even I still downplay street harassment.

When I was in secondary school, I had a guy follow me home a handful of times. He was a friend of a friend, way older than me, and was judged to be an all-round NICE GUY by everyone who knew him. He’d linger around on the road from my school to my home, waiting for me. He tried to engage in conversation that I clearly didn’t want to participate in, and insisted on walking a few paces behind me if I managed to overtake him. I’d wait at the end of my road for up to half an hour until he got bored and wandered off before going into my house, because I didn’t want him to know where I lived. After a while, I stopped seeing him around and figured he’d gotten the hint. About three months later I saw him while I was nipping to the shops trying to take a picture of me on his phone. I was terrified- heightened by the fact I was with my younger sister and I was deathly scared that he’d transfer his interest onto her. I was 15, she was 13.

This encounter- while I agree is a slightly more extreme type of street harassment- is still something I make light of. I joked with my friends that I had “a little stalker”, implied that I was followed due to my -ahem- irresistible charms.  Even while discussing the matter now, in light of these survey results, it took me a while to realise that this even counted as street harassment. What’s more disturbing, with hindsight, is that I was only 15. Before I’d even surpassed the legal matter of being considered a minor, I’d already had this pretty scary experience, and I was already brushing it off as nothing.

So what can be done about this kind of thing? Cuff everyone who wolf-whistles women? Dole out ASBOs to the men who shout out “nice arse” in the middle of the street? It’s obviously difficult to prevent or police this kind of thing, but it seems as though the main issue with street harassment is the perceived acceptability, both from perpetrators and victims. If these harassments were purely verbal or physical, if 40% of young women were being physically harassed in public, we’d all be kicking off. Yet add a sexual nature, and rather than duly becoming more sinister, it (unfathomably) becomes less of a big deal.  This isn’t a case of slapping the wrists of gropers, followers and catcallers everywhere; it’s a case of re-educating a society.

EVAW are currently campaigning for training of police and transport staff so these situations are understood and dealt with properly. There are campaigns (such as this one) encouraging women to report harassment. As Vicky Simister was quoted in The Independent yesterday as saying; “It’s not just about slapping cuffs on people, it’s about changing the way we think”. We need to be not okay with being harassed.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

How To Not Revise.

Exam season. The hours spent translating your garbled and useless notes into flashcards. Surviving solely on energy drinks and fear of failure. Only ever raising your head from your blank notepad to scowl at strangers who dare make a sound that would almost definitely interrupt your "work" session, were you actually doing any. And if you're anything like me, the reason exam season is so utterly shit isn't the thought of sitting in silent rooms with invigilators awkwardly reading over your shoulder- it's the dreaded "ugh-god-I don't-want-to-revise" slumping feeling that'll hover around you and the library in the run up to the actual paper.

It's not that you don't want to do well. It's not that you aren't capable of learning the stuff. It's just that there's somewhere in the region of seventeen thousand other things you'd rather do before sprawling your lecture notes out in front of you and sharply realising that you remember nothing of any value from an entire academic year. Roughly half of those things involve some form of physical pain or discomfort, but they're still preferable to the tedious mountain ahead of you.

Uh, revision. No one can possibly have ever enjoyed revision. The dull re-reading of lecture Powerpoints has never, in all history of Powerpoints, stirred feelings of joy or amusement in any student. They're usually hungover, staring at hastily scribbled notes dotted with lost hangman games and to-do lists, nurturing a vague sense of contempt for everything, everywhere.  Alternatively, they're tentatively questioning their friends- trying to gauge how little work everyone else is doing in order to abate the overwhelming feeling of guilt in the back of their minds. The guilt that stares at you like the emotional love child of your mother realising you completely forgot her birthday and the look of pure confused sorrow a puppy will give you when you accidentally tread on it's paw.

This is the time of year where we should all be hunkering down and studying. You know, studying. Making sense of things lecturers told you seven weeks ago while you were gently snoring away at the back of the room . Studying! It's cramming an entire year's reading list into three nights. It's dutifully highlighting your notes in the vain hope that by colouring the entire page in luminous yellow you'll magically absorb every word. You must've heard of studying. It's what everyone else is doing while you're reading this.

But instead of that, students come up with a plethora of distracting and time consuming things to do instead. Usually we aim for something that we could argue holds some kind of value to our life, like finding a Youtube video that teaches you how to make quiche from scratch, or carefully picking out outfits for the summer holidays you haven't booked yet. We shrilly justify these things with a mild sense of panic and fear of being caught out if our motives are questioned.

"I have to label every single item in the fridge and food cupboards, because, well, I think it's high time we actualised a structure in this kitchen, you know- I found a mouldy carrot the other month- terrible- and I'm in the process of developing a spreadsheet to note down what everyone's eaten already, and really, if you're against this, then, well, you can just, well, fuck off really."

I take some comfort in knowing I have friends who are that the two opposite ends of the revision scale. My closest friend had to be physically forced into revising for a syntax module last year (though I don't blame her...), yet another of my close friends genuinely did not know what the word "procrastination" meant, which made me love her even more, and broke my heart simultaneously. Wedging myself in between these two extremes makes for an only slightly uncomfortable stance; a cosy middle that consists of making notes and flashcards, but only of slight educational value. Reading the lecture notes whilst sipping fruit cider in the garden. Reading the summary of the studies I'm supposed to be committing to memory.

So when you decide to tentatively ask me how much revision I've done for the upcoming exam, instead of doing my usual trick of lying and making out I've been hitting the library from 7am till 9pm daily, rather than watching re-runs of Scrubs all week, I'm going to be honest with you. "Revise? Ha, no, I wrote a blog instead."

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Facing Thirty: Only Eleven Years To Go.

When I first moved to university, alongside all the dilemmas of meeting new people and starting a new course, one of the main worries I had was how I intended on surviving. You know, how to put the washing machine on, how to change a socket, how to cook. These things seemed pretty key to general existence, and I'm ashamed to say that prior to my first day on campus, I'd never successfully completed any of them.

That's not to say I was completely unprepared. I'd made my fair share of supernoodles in the past, and on occasion done a spot of ironing. But I was under no illusion- these core skills weren't going to be enough to get me through the next three years (and also the rest of my life...). My mum used to have to threaten throwing everything in my room away before I'd actually consider cleaning it, so "reluctant" kinda covers my general attitude towards domesticity.

A year and a half (more than that, really) into living independently and I'm only marginally wiser. My dirty pots get washed sporadically (sorry, housemates) and my room is like treading through a minefield- but replace explosives with bags of hula hoops or plugs. In all honesty, whenever I say I'm going to tidy my room, in all reality I've usually found something cool I'd forgotten about and begun a four hour playing session with it. It doesn't even have to be especially entertaining- my old Gameboy provides me with as much distraction as a pink paperclip. I'll lounge on top of a pile worn clothes, toying with the back to an earring I lost months ago, whilst reading my guide to pick-up lines in Mandarin (best birthday present ever), letting time slip away around me. Then, three and a half hours later- I've achieved nothing. You know, other than learning how to say "Are you still wearing underwear? Well, then my my watch must be 15 minutes fast." in Chinese. And as much as that's vital to every day life, I really needed to find my lecture notes from underneath a fortnight's worth of books, clothes and discarded food packaging
Barricaded into my room, mid-tidy up session

I have this image in my head of adulthood- the far off future when I'll understand tax codes and own sensible shoes and know how to make gnocchi. Where I'll go into Marks and Spencer's to buy birthday presents, and I'll know the numbers of a few decent plumbers and understand the difference between Shiraz and Rioja. It's going to happen eventually, and I'd quite confidently tell you that I'll have accomplished these feats by the time I'm thirty.That seems like a reasonable age to be discussing mortgages. I may have even gotten around to some other life-achievements by then, you know, if I'm not too busy thinking about my pending hip replacement.

This pretty idyllic view of my life in eleven years time is kind of bewildering for me. It's my own deadline, and it doesn't seem quite far away enough any more. If I've only got just over a decade to start understanding the difference in kitchen cleaning products and how much is appropriate to drink at a networking event, then I should probably have some grounding in the basics right now.

As it stands I'm currently about as much use as lecture in syntactic theory. I've never successfully manned a washing machine without supervision, and I don't have even the loosest idea how to go about making a Sunday Roast. I could probably figure out how to change a fuse, but I'd have to be emotionally prepared for a few electric shocks along the way.

And I'm by no means the least competent person I know. I imagine very few of my similarly-aged friends would feel ready equipped to be a proper, independent, taking-out-the-bins type adult. I think I speak for at least most of us when I say we're all quite happy to continue in this bizarre student world of adulthood; where the fruit content in cider counts toward your five a day and doing the food shop means skidding round Tesco on a trolley.

Thinking about these things sends me into a downward spiral of panic. What if I'm the only person I know by the time I'm forty who hasn't hosted a dinner party? What if everyone else is comparing notes on home insurance and I'm still trying to make a portion of pasta stretch to three meals because I can't be arsed to get some food in?

While calmly deteriorating into a recycling-collection-date frenzy, dwelling on these great life mysteries, I had an epiphany. Eleven years ago, I was eight years old. I didn't know my left from right properly, nor how to read a clock that used Roman numerals. I couldn't be trusted to run a bath without fear of a mini-flood, and I wasn't even tall enough to turn the central heating on, never mind know what to do if it wasn't working. Now, a fully functioning nineteen year old, and I'm more than capable of all these things. They seemed impossible and far off when I was still strutting around in jelly shoes, but then so did graduating from primary school. If I've overcome eleven years of growing up without any major mishaps once before, I think I'm going to be able to do it again. And if I place learning how to calculate my electricity bill in the same boat as learning how to write joined-up, then I'm counting on it coming naturally after a period of trial and error, and only one or two situations where my lack of ability embarrasses me enough to motivate actually learning how to do it properly.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Love in the Library: The Yorker Archives

Summer term. It should be stirring up feelings of freedom and an insatiable desire for ice-cream, but instead it means one thing and one thing only for us hard-working students. It’s exam period, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Glum trips to the library every day; merciless hunts for a computer in the Harry Fairhurst building; a nagging feeling of neglecting your degree every time you choose a night out or an episode of The Voice over committing your flashcards to memory. Even if you don’t have any exams, or are a first year that couldn’t care less about your altogether formative round of essays, you’ll be pretty much alone- the entire university migrates in summer term to the depths of JB Morrell, and doesn’t resurface until Summer Ball.

Given this less than romantic setting, you would be forgiven for assuming that finding love lurking in the library is just as likely as finding it in Reflex on local’s night. Well you’d be wrong. Maybe it’s the smell of stress and freshly renewed books, or the general sense of desperation and panic that hovers around Key Texts, but whatever it is, make the most of it now. You have exams to be revising for; there simply isn’t time to be off galavanting on actual dates.

Step One.
Nab yourself a decent spot. If you’re picky about the type of soulmate you want to stumble across, choose your location wisely. You want a creative partner? Head off to the Literature or History of Art sections. Fancy a macho sports player? First find out if we offer a sports science degree, and then patiently wait in that area. You get the gist.

Step Two.
Make yourself desirable. You need to get attention after all! The most successful way of getting people to notice you in the library is to be as much of a nuisance as possible. Take up two or more seats; check out every book (even if unnecessary to your revision session) and pile them up around you; and have your sexiest soundtrack blasting through your iPod speakers. That way, while people are throwing you dirty looks, you can catch their eyes and throw them a disarming smile that just screams “let’s go make out behind the journal articles”.

Step Three.
Now you’ve found yourself a suitable and prime location, and gained sufficient attention from all your new potential partners, it’s time to make your move. This is all down to personal preference. If you’re the confident type, a simple wink and nod towards the nearest private spot for a getting-to-know-you session should do the trick. If you’re more subtle, try “accidentally” spilling your water bottle all over their freshly finished essay, and offering to get them a coffee from the £1 vending machine to make up for it. Whichever path you choose, they’ll love you either way. Who said romance was dead?

And if that doesn’t work, then maybe focussing on your upcoming exams and due dates will serve you better. Who knows, perhaps the time you spend revising and writing essays will cultivate you into a more desirable person? And failing that, there’s always Reflex on local’s night.

(originally published here: