Another Blog About The EU Referendum

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WARNING: This is an opinion piece about the result of the EU Referendum. I repeat: an OPINION piece. If you voted ‘Leave’ at the polls this week, I recommend you stop reading now. You’ll save yourself a rise in blood pressure.

I wish the ‘Leave’ posts on my social media feeds had come with a similar warning throughout this referendum. I am guilty of taking the clickbait, and calling out posts where I thought the information being shared was misleading or unnecessary. This didn’t make me feel good, but I stand by my words. I wouldn’t have published them on the web if I didn’t have faith in them.

I saw friends and family members determined to vote ‘Leave’, cite both rational and irrational reasons for doing so. I saw similar behaviour from  those voting ‘Remain’. The ‘Leave’ campaign had Brexit The Movie a chronically one sided ‘documentary’ designed to incite mistrust towards the EU, whilst the ‘In Crowd’ who supported the ‘Remain’ campaign used cute puppies to convince people to stay, which was patronising and weak.

When your personal aspirations and beliefs are affected by a political outcome; it’s hard to avoid being an angry, judgemental fuckwit. That’s why my newsfeed is full of riled up voices on both sides – we’re all guilty of losing our temper with someone in the last few weeks. I believe so-and-so is wrong, they believe so-and-so is right.

Perhaps that’s the issue; it’s all belief when it should be statistics and facts. But no-one has faith in the numbers because both sides have lied, though I would argue the ‘Leave’ campaign led the way here. Their promise to invest the millions of pounds we send to the EU each week back in to the NHS was a blatant lie (something which Nigel Farage casually revealed on breakfast television, shortly after the result had been announced).

In 2014, I attended a debate which acknowledged the importance of the then upcoming EU Referendum. Along with Belle Jar founders Louisa & Juliette, I was invited to the NAWO (National Alliance of Women’s Organisations) debate about ‘Young Women, Media Representation and Europe’. I listened to Paula Buonadonna (journalist, broadcaster, and Media Director at British Influence) talk about how important it was for young women to vote to remain in the EU if they wanted to see the changes they’d discussed put in to policies. I felt intensely hopeful when I left this debate, but two years later things feel quite different.

I was lucky enough to be invited to attend another EU debate this year, which was co-hosted by The Telegraph and The Huffington Post, and broadcast live by Youtube. I listened to Boris Johnson and Priti Patel debate their reasons for leaving the EU, and Liz Kendall and Alex Salmond debate why we should remain. Liz Kendall directly answered the majority of her questions, whereas Boris Johnson spent a lot of time dithering – there is no other word which accurately describes it – whilst trying to outwit Alex Salmond. Salmond also indulged in bids to outwit Johnson, but generally, Boris led the way in avoiding questions. I left the debate feeling confused by the statistics, but certain I would be voting ‘Remain’.

As we all know, my vote was not the winning vote.

Shortly after the result was announced, I saw a plethora of social media statuses which I had no patience for. The result had upset and angered a lot of my friends, and some thought this was an appropriate time to police people’s reactions, and tell them they shouldn’t complain. A few even suggested people didn’t understand or favour democracy because the vote “didn’t go their way”.

I didn’t post anything which suggested I felt this way, but what made my blood boil was that before this, many of us were chanting  “unless you vote, you don’t have a right to complain!”. Fast forward a few weeks; we’ve exercised our right to vote, the results are announced, we’re complaining, and suddenly that’s not okay? COME ON GUYS. Not only is it our right to moan if we’ve voted, we’re also British; so by nature we bloody love a bloody good moan! ‘kin ‘ell. Let a girl vent once in a while, eh?

To all those who’ve still got the arse ache; I salute you. Keep on moaning (unless you’re being offensive or a bully, then you should reel it in).

The “democracy is democracy, duh!” people telling others “not to over-react” were also guilty of simultaneously posting statuses joking about the result of the EU Referendum, which is the equivalent of waving a red flag in front  of a bull on social media. Well done! You’ve successfully added further hypocrisy to this shit-show of a referendum.

It’s easy to dismiss all of this, however, when we remember that MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered in her constituency days before the polling stations opened. Like many people, I didn’t know who Jo Cox was until her death was reported on national news. Britain First supporter Thomas Mair shot and stabbed her, multiple times, in broad daylight. He killed her because he was a right-wing extremist who didn’t agree with Jo’s liberal politics of growth and acceptance. I haven’t got the words to explain how cripplingly unfair it is that Jo’s killer was not treated with the same severity as any other extremist murderer, by the national press. We can moan and joke all we like, but a woman was killed for her political beliefs during this referendum. That’s more truthful and shocking than any statistic.

Nigel Farage told the papers he won the vote “without a shot being fired”, which is at best a stupid remark, and at worst; a callous disregard for the feelings of Jo Cox’s family. Farage, like most MPs, knows the power and influence of language. He should know better, but alas; this is the man who frightened a nation by using a campaign poster which resembles Nazi propaganda. I’d laugh, but it’s beyond a joke now.

But actually, I can laugh – because I am a privileged individual (and because I read Peep Show’s take on the Referendum). I’m not working class, but I’m not middle class. I have a full-time income, and I still live at home with my parents (#missindependent). Over the next few days, months, and years I imagine I will weather the potential changes that Brexit brings more comfortably than others who will be directly affected by the policy changes. I’ve always believed compassion works well when it comes to voting; and I voted ‘Remain’ because in my view, it was the compassionate thing to do. Laugh, undermine, attack that view all you like; we’ve all been wrong in some way during this debate. I don’t regret my decision.

Like everyone, I’m tired of all the hate and all the rage and all I want to do is sit down and have a cup of tea, and wait for all this to end. The problem is, it’s only just begun; so it’s going to be a while before anyone feels like sitting down with each other and talking calmly, instead of scalding each other with their opinions (and possibly their very hot cup of tea).

SUNDAY #53 -UEA ‘War Of Words’ Speech

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UEA hosted their first progressive media conference yesterday, entitled ‘War Of Words’. I cautiously/gratefully accepted their invitation to speak alongside Sophie Van Der Ham (Young Greens Co-Chair) and Tori Cann (UEA Lecturer from Norwich Feminist Network) on a panel discussing ‘Women, Politics and the Media’, chaired by Asia Patel. I’d been invited on behalf of Belle Jar, an online magazine I began writing for in 2012.

Although I perform in front of audiences in improvised comedy shows, I find public speaking a bit of a nerve shredder. Fortunately, both the panel and the audience were clued-up and compassionate; so it was an intense but incredible 60 minutes of discussion and debate. Tori, Sophie, and I spoke about female politicians, the lack of respect for female voices in the media, and my personal favourite; female anger. The post-debate adrenaline has flushed my memories away, but I wanted to share the speech I prepared (and nearly screwed up multiple times whilst reading aloud).

I urge you to follow Belle Jar, The Norwich Radical, Tori and Sophie on Twitter too!

*** For those who prefer pictures to words, Antony Carpen kindly recorded the speech. Video is at the end of the blog!***

“I would not be here at this event today without the encouragement, enthusiasm, and efforts of other women. I am speaking on behalf of Belle Jar; an online publication created in 2012 by two university students, Louisa Ackermann and Juliette Cule.

Louisa & Juliette created Belle Jar to provide a safe online platform for feminist discussion and debate. Belle Jar exists to inform and inspire; covering the humorous to the humanitarian. The magazine has 2,716 likes on Facebook, and 1,921 followers on Twitter. The site was also nominated for a Guardian Student Media Award, and was the only publication of its kind to be considered in the student website category. As a team, we have been to The Houses of Parliament to discuss issues surrounding the representation of women in the media, and our website continues to publish news updates and articles which seek to inform and challenge our readers.

But Belle Jar is more than a website; it is a support system; a network of voices that work together to help counteract the misogyny which dominates the national media, and impacts our everyday lives. When I submitted my first article to the site in 2012, I had no idea it would bring me to this stage today. Without the internet, I may not have found Belle Jar. Without Belle Jar, I would not have found Louisa or Juliette who have given me the courage to use my voice here today.

I believe in the power of small stories; they are crucial to the structure of larger narratives. My small story is that I used to fear the potential in my own voice. As a teenage girl, I was forever anxious about its volume and its content to the point where I rarely spoke up in school, the playground; anywhere. When Louisa & Juliette suggested I speak at UEA today, my initial reaction was “I’m not qualified for that, I can’t” – Juliette kindly told me not to listen to my imposter syndrome, to go, use my voice, and spread my story. This is the encouragement many young women are lacking in their teens and early twenties. No-one is saying “Go for it, learn as you go!” – instead, it feels like they’re whispering “You’re a girl, what do you know?”

Like many young women, I hesitated when I initially began identifying with feminism. It was intimidating; a movement with an extensive and difficult history which people often told me had ‘gone too far’. It’s easy to believe these things when there’s an absence of support, or no voices offering you an alternative outlook. Fortunately, through social media I found a corner of the internet where girls and women were having similar kinds of experiences. They were being open about their anxieties by speaking about personal experiences of sexism on the internet. Juliette affectionately dubbed Belle Jar as ‘baby feminism’ – a place where those who are at the start of their interactions with the movement can read, discuss, and write about what it means to them. This kind of interaction is essential for modern girls and women. It keeps us connected, inspired and most importantly; comforted in a world where misogyny overshadows many of our attempts to assert ourselves.

To quote Jude Kelly, (Arrtistic Director at The Southbank Centre & founder of the annual Women Of The World Festival); the media is “amoral at best, or immoral at worst, with regards to women”. Women’s appearances, achievements, and mere existences are often undermined by journalists and editors. Just last week, The Sun Newspaper reported the alleged rape of deceased soldier Cheryl James as a ‘romp’, and insulted her death by branding her a ‘Suicide army girl’. Once my initial disgust had subsided, I shared the post on Belle Jar’s Facebook page, and Juliette posted a link to the The Independent Press Standards Organisation website, so our readers could complain about this insulting attempt at journalism. The speed at which social media allows people to distribute information, and act on issues such as this is incredible, and Belle Jar and other publications like it utilise this tool effectively.

It’s easy to dismiss efforts like this as acts of ‘keyboard warfare’ and reduce them down to ‘trying to look like we’re doing good’ without actively striving to change women’s representation in the media. Even small publications like Belle Jar are not free from critics and trolls. We have been labelled ‘anti-men’ and I have personally been branded both a ‘superficial little girl’ and a ‘dumb chick cunt’. Internet abuse is equally as real and damaging as street harassment, and women on the internet are subject to higher levels of vitriol in comparison to men. Louisa, Juliette & I went to an event about ‘Outspoken Women’ with featured classicist Mary Beard, and journalist Laurie Penny. Mary said she found the internet ‘revelatory’ because it exposed the pre-existing misogyny inherent in society, and Laurie dubbed modern women’s online opinions as ‘the mini-skirt of the internet.’

Being an outspoken internet feminist can be both confusing and exhausting; but there is so much to support, and so many supporters who are ready to incite change, that you don’t have to apply yourself to every area of the movement. There is no such thing as a perfect feminist. As women, we are taught from a young age to burden ourselves with the responsibilities of others. Whilst compassion is not to be discouraged, it also leaves us little time to explore our own ideas and develop our own beliefs. Feminist scholars and activists have repeated the phrase ‘the personal is the political’ and it is an essential thing to remember whenever you feel that sexism is undermining or devaluing your opinion.

Belle Jar gave me the support I needed in my early twenties when I was starting to engage with feminism and its goals. It was my spring board in to politics, and introduced me to the issues surrounding abortion, FGM, Sex Education, and street harassment. In the introduction to Laura Bates’ ‘Everyday Sexism’ Sarah Brown writes that “Girls who read, lead.” I began reading Belle Jar articles, which then led me to contribute ideas of my own to the site. I stand before you now as a representative for the magazine, and a friend of its fearless and dedicated creators.

Something as simple as reading an article on the internet can set you on a path of discovery and empowerment. Belle Jar are always looking for new writers, and welcome all kinds of contributions. Please get in touch, and if anyone would like one of our sassy business cards; feel free to come and see me at the end of this discussion.”

SUNDAY #14 – VOTE

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‘What’s the point? They’re all as bad as each other’

‘I can’t vote for Cameron/Milliband/Farage – the man looks like a moron’

‘It doesn’t make any difference’

I wish I could be as apathetic as the people who say these things about our government, but I nearly expired with rage typing out the quotes above this sentence. Fortunately, I come from a family that is unlikely to feel the brutal impact of a change in government, but I’m not naive enough to pretend that my circumstances could change at any moment. When you get to the polling station on 7th May this week, remember that you need empathy, not apathy when it comes to politics.

This post will divide and anger people, but I’m tired of hearing/seeing people pretend not voting in this election is a) right, b) cool, c) anarchic. Here are three reasons why I think you should vote in the General Elections on May 7th:

  1. Regardless of how much you know about politics, you can still make an informed decision about who to vote for.

I don’t have an in-depth knowledge of politics, I never have. I vote, I’ve written to my MP about feminist issues and I’ve signed online petitions.When I do decide to take an interest, it’s not difficult to find the policies of each party; they are currently everywhere. They’re arriving in leaflets through the letterbox, they’re being discussed on the news, and they’re being parodied on the internet. My research has been limited (and I’ve used this brilliant survey tool to see which policies I agree with), but you can easily make a decision about who to vote for without inducing a mind-numbing headache.

  1. Choosing not to vote ‘because it won’t make a difference’ is a) mad and b) stupid.

Bold words there, but hear me out.

I’m a fan of Russell Brand, I’ve seen his stand-up and applaud his attempts to re-form his sexist ways; but I don’t applaud the way he promotes apathy when it comes to voting. Brand says it’s ‘frustration’ not apathy, that leads to people not voting, but the only way to vent frustration is to act on it (which in this case means VOTE). It’s dangerous to become apathetic to something as important and influential as government. Every vote matters. You’re mad to think differently.

  1. As a young woman, it is important to remember how hard other women fought to give me the right to vote.

Men have been having their say for centuries, unlike women who were only granted the right to vote 87 years ago in 1928 (before this in 1918, only women householders over the age of 30 could vote). That’s nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Remember all the women who were abused, beaten, starved, and killed because they wanted their opinions to matter. Together, men and women can change our government; and it all starts with a vote on May 7th.

*Also, if you’re lacking motivation to get to the polling station, just cram this in your ears on the journey there:

(Image Courtesy of: http://www.diabetes.org.uk/Global/get-involved/campaigns/vote_1563949c.jpg)

NAWO – ‘Young Women, Media representation and Europe’ event at The House of Commons 29/04/14 – Full Details

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Ikamara Larasi, member of Imkaan, addressing attendees (including myself) at NAWO House of Commons event 29/04/14.

On the 29th of April, I travelled up to London to meet the creators of Belle Jar, Louisa and Juliette. We had been invited via email by the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO), to an event at The House of Commons to discuss ‘Young Women, Media Representation and Europe’. We made our way to Committee Room 10 where we were greeted by Project officer Rosie, and ‘No More Page 3’ campaigner Lucy Holmes.

What followed was an evening of insightful, informative discussion. Two panels addressed the attendees; the first of which included Lucy Holmes. You may be familiar with the ‘No More Page Three’ campaign and Lucy’s reasons for starting it (if not, read here). She spoke about the dehumanising qualities of Page 3, and the knock-on effect this has in other areas of media representation; the strongest example being women’s sport which receives just 5% media coverage, the same coverage as Men’s darts.

The second speaker was Isabel Chapman, journalist and project leader of the award-winning ‘Oii My Size’ campaign. This campaign is dedicated to teaching young boys about how detrimental sexting, street-harassment and sexist chat-up lines can be to young women. It was refreshing to see that this initiative included male involvement as well, making the issue seem more approachable and the goal more achievable. The campaign has had its largest success in London boroughs and is looking to expand.

The final speakers for the first panel were Ikamara Larasi and Lia Latchford, members of the Black Feminist Organisation Imkaan. This organisation is dedicated to eradicating violence against girls and women, and through their work with Imkaan, Ikamara and Lia started the Rewind&Reframe Campaign, which challenges the racist and sexist stereotypes in music videos. Ikamara, in particular, provided a compelling discussion about the representation of women from ethnic backgrounds in the media. She argued that when violence against a woman from an ethnic background is reported, it is usually seen as more violent and more ‘barbaric’ compared to if had happened to a white woman. When Ikamara highlighted this, I realised I’d unintentionally been guilty of this myself. A while ago, I wrote an article about Plan UK’s advertising campaign to stop African girls being forced in to marriage. I wrote the article from a point of female empathy, as a reminder to everyone to help any girl or woman in a state of crisis. However, with hindsight, I realise that I may have subconsciously sensationalised the violence because of the girl’s ethnic background. Ikamara is right; violence against women is horrific regardless of the woman’s ethnicity; it is a universal problem that requires everyone’s input to solve it.

A brief Q&A session followed the first panel, before the second panel was introduced. Caroline Criado-Perez was the first to speak. Journalist, and co-founder of The Women’s room, Caroline also started the campaign to get Jane Austen’s face on to English banknotes. For this initiative, she received a torrent of online abuse. Caroline showed the attendees the tweets that were too graphic and violent for the media to actually report. This censorship meant her representation in the national media was limited to a woman who was ‘a bit upset by some online insults’. These ‘insults’ were actually death and rape threats that Caroline freely admitted had destroyed her life. The reassuring aspect of her speech was that she would never ‘shut her whore mouth’ like the twitter trolls wanted, and her bravery was praised by panellists and attendees alike.

Next to speak was Paolo Buonadonna, journalist, broadcaster, and Media Director at British Influence. Paola was the most politically motivated of all the speakers, urging everyone in the room to engage in politics if they wish to see the changes they had spent the evening describing. She discussed her role at British Influence, an independent organisation that believes it is in everyone’s interest to keep Britain in a reformed EU, and explained why as young women, we should not vote for UKIP, something we were all in favour of, especially after Ex-MEP, Godfrey Bloom ‘joked’ that women are ‘sluts’ earlier in the year.

Professor Rosalind Gill followed Paolo, and dicussed women’s current representation in the media. Her work includes over a decade’s worth of contribution to debates about the ‘sexualisation of culture’. She recommended reading the study ‘The symbolic annihilation of Women by the mass media’ and urged all attendees to persevere with their feminist campaigns; as collectively they were making a real difference.

Due to time restrictions, there were rushed speeches from members of ’50:50 Parliament’ and the #EmilyMatters campaign, urging attendees to be active in politics and push for better representation of women in Parliament. To close the evening, NAWO chairwoman, Annette Lawson, thanked all the panellists for their time and all the women and girls in the room who had given up their evening to attend.

Overall, the event was a resounding success. I left the building feeling empowered, excited and grateful for these women who refuse to stand down even in the face of intimidating adversity. I voted in the EU parliamentary elections on the 22nd of May (NOT for UKIP, obviously), and intend to have a much louder political voice from now on.

You can read NAWO’s official spring bulletin about the event here.

NAWO Young Womens Event at The House of Commons – 29/04/14

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On Tuesday 29th April, I travelled up to London to meet two young women, Louisa & Juliette, outside The Houses of Parliament. We had previously met just once before at The Southbank Centre where we saw Malala Yousafzai speak. I am a guest blogger for The Belle Jar Magazine, and Louisa & Juliette are the women who started this online publication. I found them through the internet, and because of mutual feminist interests, we decided to attend the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO) to discuss the role of gender and sexism in the media. I intend to write a full post about the evening asap.

In the picture that accompanies this blog post, Lucy Ann Holmes, the founder of the No More Page 3 Campaign is speaking. In the bottom right corner of the photograph, there is a girl with a bobbed haircut wearing a checked shirt. That girl is me.

Don’t forget to vote in the elections on May 22nd (for anyone but UKIP!)