1692… 1939… 2016

This isn’t funny anymore.

I mean, it hasn’t been funny for a while now, but it really really isn’t funny anymore.

I don’t give very much of a fuck that Melania Trump – or whoever wrote her speech – plagiarised Michelle Obama. It’s sort of amusing  and not terribly surprising and is easy to mock and make into a meme, but it also seems to be casting a rather large shadow over that mob who was gleefully baying for the blood of the opposing party’s nominee.

I can’t watch the GOP Convention, can’t listen to the hateful bile that passes for ‘speeches’.

I can’t help but feel a chill crawl up my spine when I hear Chris Christie call Donald Trump a good and caring person. (Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.)

I can’t hear the chanting of ‘Lock her up!’ and the shouts of ‘Guilty!’ without feeling a bit sick to my stomach.

This could be the GOP Convention’s official song. If they were cool enough to be into Radiohead.

 

I can’t watch with ironic detachment as they collectively demonise a woman who I very much admire, and who I believe really is a good and caring person who wants to make our country better, unlike the bigoted, belligerent, sexist, ridiculously unfit and unqualified demagogue who opposes her.

I can’t just roll my eyes and shake my head and make smug jokes. This isn’t Clint Eastwood making conversation with a chair. This isn’t your typical Republican claptrap about family values and Reagan worship. I’ve seen Triumph of the Will, and this is some serious Leni Riefenstahl shit.

I can’t believe that Ted Fucking Cruz is the lone voice of reason here. (I don’t like Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz’s own children don’t appear to like Ted Cruz. But give the guy a point for stading up there amid jeers and boos and refusing to endorse the Trumpster whilst everyone else just rolls over and falls in line.)

What I see and hear shocks and saddens me. And I can’t take it.

I’m not merely afraid for my country. I’m increasingly growing afraid of my country. It’s a country I hardly recognise, and one that I’d never go back to. It’s a country I’m ashamed of. I can deal with being embarrassed by America – we’re a people who will put our flag on any and every article of clothing and wear it unironically, because that’s just how we roll, and that will never not be embarrassing. But being ashamed is harder. This isn’t me. This isn’t where I come from. This isn’t my America. To say, ‘I want my country back!’ has become so commonplace now that it’s virtually meaningless. But… I want my country back, and not only that, I want it to continue moving forward and changing and growing into the more equal and progressive place I hope it can be, the place I think it was slowly starting to become before Trump made bigotry and sexism great again, and brought the ugly underside of America to the fore and into the spotlight.

I’m not one for blind and unwavering patriotism or American exceptionalism. Despite what I grew up being taught and how much Americans like to say it, I know that America is not The Greatest Country in the World, nor did we invent Freedom. Like any country, it has its faults, some of which are unfortunately rather glaring. But it is also a great and influential country, one that others look to as an example. A country that still gives people hope. A country I want desperately to be able to defend. Because I believe that on the whole Americans are good and decent and kind. I believe in our boundless optimism and our desire to go further and do better. I believe that if we keep trying and fight hard, there might one day actually be liberty and justice for all, because deep down we really do mean it. I believe that in the end all of the things I love about America and its people will come together and ensure that Trump’s unique brand of awfulness doesn’t win. I believe the America I know is still there underneath the layer of extremist right-wing sludge. I believe we can come back from this. I have to believe that. The alternative is too much to bear.

Then maybe we can go back to laughing. Because ‘binders full of women’ is funny.

15 Million More Cracks

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A few months ago, I was cautiously optimistic and excited about the possibility of having our first female presidential nominee of a major party, as well as stressed out and fretting about the possibility that she may not win.

Now, as I write this, the news has come in that Hillary Clinton has quite handily won the California primary, further solidifying her historic win of the Democratic nomination for president, and serving as a great big fat cherry on top of an amazing 24 hours. I woke up yesterday morning to the news that the Associated Press had decided to go ahead and declare Hillary the presumptive nominee, before Tuesday’s primaries, and though I was reasonably confident in that assertion, I still felt a little uneasy, and more than a little annoyed. I wished that they had waited. It felt like they’d undermined her somehow, had added another round of ammunition to those who wallow in conspiracy theories and insist her victories aren’t legitimate. And – maybe just a little bit – it had spoiled the wonderful celebration we’d all planned, like a guest jumping out and yelling ‘surprise!’ before the cue.

Today I woke up and none of that mattered anymore. She’s ‘officially’ won now, with victories in New Jersey, New Mexico, California and South Dakota. She has made history and is just one step away from making history again in November and I’m indescribably happy. It’s as if we – her supporters, the media – had been collectively holding our breath, watching and waiting to see if it finally happened, too terrified to really talk about it, to allow ourselves to be excited about the fact that she was making history, that she was thisfuckingclose, that she was going to be First and that was pretty goddamn awesome. And now that she’s done it the valve has been released and it’s just this wonderful outpouring of emotion.

I’ve spent the day scrolling through my social media feeds, reading and revelling in expressions of joy and elation and tears and relief from women I’ve never met, but with whom I share an undeniable connection. Women whose mothers were born before we had the right to vote. Women who brought their young daughters with them into the booth. Women who themselves were voting for the first time. Women who had been afraid to publicly proclaim their support for Hillary, lest they be bombarded with sexist abuse.  Women whose grandmothers didn’t live long enough to witness this. Women who were descended from Suffragettes. Women whose hearts were full of hope. Women who, as little girls, were told they could be anything they wanted, but knew there were exceptions. Women who were tired of waiting. Women who don’t just want to speak, but SHOUT. I understand. We all understand. We feel in the very marrow of our bones the enormity of this victory. It’s a victory for all of us, who know all too well the obstacles that had to be overcome – which still need to be overcome – in order to arrive here, mere inches away from that ceiling, watching the jagged cracks spread and deepen, waiting for the sound of shattered glass.

‘Bite Me’

When we were in high school, one of my best friends – a smart, serious, politically minded and outspoken young woman – decided to run for student body President. Her opponent was a good-looking and popular guy who hung out with the jocks (I can’t remember if he played a sport himself), and, along with his other pals who were running for the remaining offices, his idea was to create a Coalition of Cool Dudes who would rule the school with their awesome popular guy power and subvert the authority maintained by the teachers and administrators. Their campaign posters featured hastily scrawled drawings of Mickey Mouse (one of the school administrators was known for her love of all things Mickey Mouse) hanging from a tree in a noose, or lying dead next to a bottle of poison. Everyone expected all of these boys to win; it was clear that my friend was the nerdy, A-student, underdog girl staring down the behemoth of handsome popularity.

On election day, we all assembled in the school’s auditorium to hear each candidate give a little speech before we voted. My friend’s opponent went first, and gave a sort of Alice Cooper School’s Out Forever kind of spiel, which the auditorium seemed to love, and which felt like an impossible act for my friend to follow. I remember her standing up there on the stage in her white button-down shirt, black slacks and orange Converse (the other guy had just rocked up in his usual jeans and a T-shirt), and if she was nervous or afraid, she didn’t show it. She launched into her speech, and then, midway through a sentence, someone in the audience started to heckle her. Without pausing or missing a beat, she looked askance at the heckler and muttered, ‘Bite me!’ into the microphone before continuing on with what she had to say. I’d like to think that people applauded this – twenty years wreaks havoc on the memory – but I’m certain, at least, that people laughed.

(Which is why I love it so much when Hillary – or her social media people speaking on her behalf – fights back with a bit of snark or uses a laughable insult to her own advantage by creating a bumper sticker to further support her campaign. This woman gets so much shit and is not allowed to directly express any annoyance about it. This is her way of saying, ‘Bite me!’, and I applaud it every time.)

And I’ve realised that this is what Hillary vs Bernie feels like to me right now. The nerdy girl vs the cool guy. He’s promising to overthrow the administration and put free Coke machines in the lunchroom and his supporters are making fun of his opponent for being too smart and too earnest and trying too hard and wanting it too much, and just being so uncool. How dare she even think she should be in the race? Why does she even bother getting up on that stage, when everyone knows the cool guy is better and free Coke machines would be awesome?!

You could see it in the reactions to those NYDN interviews that each of them did. Much was made about the seeming lack of depth and knowledge apparent in Bernie’s answers, and though I believe he’s not a dumb guy and I have nothing against him, I also think someone who wants to be President should be able to provide clear, confident answers to the questions he was asked. Of course, many of his supporters rushed to defend him, claiming the paper was biased garbage and the published transcript an obvious ‘hitpiece’ (never mind these were the actual answers that came out of Bernie’s actual mouth in response to very reasonable questions) and goddammit he’s the cool guy who’s gonna give us FREE COKE MACHINES! Meanwhile Hillary’s interview was pretty much the polar opposite, and pretty much what you would expect from her: detailed and nuanced and confident, with an obvious knowledge and understanding of what she was talking about. She had clearly done her homework. Because she’s Hillary Goddamn Clinton and she always does her homework. But this just makes her a suck-up and a panderer and a phony. Obviously she had all the right answers because she is so uncool, boning up on policy and nerdy political shit. Look at her trying so hard! What a cunt!

(But also she probably cheated, because no one is that good.)

It seems to me that Bernie’s entire plan, to the extent that he has one, is ‘Get me into the White House and then I’ll appoint some people who know stuff and we’ll cross these bridges when we come to them!’ He doesn’t have time for this other shit – the questions, the explaining, the policies, the boring homework. Free Coke machines! Which is fine; not everyone has to be an overachiever, the world also needs cool people and I, too, would love more free Coke machines. But I also believe our next President should be someone who does  do the homework, who is interested and engaged in the process, who has detailed and well-thought-out plans (which she is endearingly excited about explaining), who is incredibly informed and can work with the advisers instead of just leaving it all up to them, who has worked her ass off for decades to get where she is, who has experience and is ready, who is not ashamed of being the nerdy girl.

My friend won that election and became student body President, upsetting the plans of those over-confident, popular guys and everyone else who thought she wouldn’t and couldn’t do it. And maybe, if we’re lucky, this November Hillary Rodham Clinton, President-elect, will take the stage and give an amazing, history-making victory speech, and will be wildly applauded by all of us – the millions of us – who knew she deserved it, who liked her and supported her and enthusiastically voted for her, even though it wasn’t cool.

Which will be the biggest ‘Bite me!’ of them all.

 

 

 

#LetitBern

This is me every time I hear another person vow they’ll either stay home or vote for someone other than Hillary on election day should Bernie Sanders not win the nomination:

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These people are supposedly the real progressives, the ones who won’t be cowed and manipulated by the lamestream media into becoming mindless Hillarybots. The irony is that a huge chunk of those who swear they’ll never vote for Hillary are basing their opinion on ‘facts’ that have been manufactured or manipulated by the GOP for the past 25 years in an effort to eviscerate her and make people hate and distrust her, and they gleefully hoover it up and regurgitate it all over Facebook feeds and comment sections everywhere. All of this bullshit is pretty easily debunked within like five minutes of googling and a bit of independent thought, but it’s easier to just carry on insisting Hillary is an evil closet Republican (who I guess just votes the same way Bernie does 90% of the time in an effort to further pull the wool over our eyes) and repeating the same tired old rubbish the actual Republicans have been feeding us since the 1990s. I mean, wake up sheeple!

(And this is the point where you pause whilst the Bernie or Die camp calls you an obvious paid shill and an idiot who lacks the courage to join the revolution and instead just wants to maintain the status quo. Done? Great!)

But the real head-explodingness is this fucking stupid idea that if we let the Republican (which at this point is gonna be Trump) win and just wait four years, things will have gotten so bad that Americans will finally snap out of their mindless stupor and the revolution can begin in earnest. 2020 will be Socialistapalooza! We just have to sacrifice our fellow Americans, many of whom we may even know and love, to the gaping maw of the right-wing agenda for four years and allow our country to actually fall off the edge of that precipice its been teetering on for god knows how long, and once everyone is either bankrupt or dead from lack of health insurance or living in a Muslim ghetto with yellow crescents on their arms or being rounded up and sent back to Mexico to help build The Wall or bleeding to death from a botched abortion in a dodgy hotel room or cancelling their wedding because marriage equality no longer exists or living out their Snake Plisskin fantasies and attempting to escape New York, then we can start again from scratch!

I will admit that there is a small, dark, shrivelled-up little corner of meanness in my heart that thinks, ‘Yeah, OK, fine, let the bad guys win, you smug motherfuckers. Let’s see what happens in four years.’ And when the revolution doesn’t come, I can look all these dumbfounded assholes in the eye and tell them I was right. Great revolution, guys! Well done!

But this feeling is only fleeting; I don’t really want this to happen, not only because it would be the most Pyrrhic of victories, but also because I remember how I felt in 2004 after the re-election of George W Bush. I had expected to wake up on the Wednesday morning after Election Day to a better and more hopeful America. I was certain that Bush would lose. But instead I spent that morning crying and feeling hopeless and dejected, and my Republican-voting father poking his head into my room to rub it in didn’t make it any better, and all the righteous indignation I could muster didn’t change the fact that America, as far as I was concerned, was fucked.

One can argue that four years after that, we got Obama, and things got better. So sure, let’s have eight years of Trump horror instead of four! How far do we want to take this? How much misery do we want to force our friends, our loved ones, our neighbors to endure for the chance to start again at zero instead of at halfway there? How many lives do we want to gamble with for the sake of being right?

You might as well have voted for the Iraq war.

Voting for Revolution

I was born in 1979 – the year Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party was elected into power in a landslide victory, making her Britain’s first female Prime Minister. Her term ended in November of 1990, and in the 25 years since then Britain has had exactly zero female Prime Ministers.

When I was a kid growing up in the 80s, I didn’t even know who Margaret Thatcher was, and the president of the US was just some benevolent-looking white guy called Ronald, and then another old white guy called George. The idea of a female president didn’t really enter my mind; in fact the only time I remember thinking about it was when I happened to be watching Popeye one day, and Olive Oyl was singing about all the stuff she’d do if she were president. (I hated Olive Oyl, so it was unlikely I’d have supported her presidential bid.) My sister and I would sometimes play a game where we pretended to be the president’s daughters. But never the actual president. It wasn’t that I didn’t think girls could grow up to be president, but more like it wasn’t even a physical possibility. It’d be like thinking I could grow up to be a spaceship.

I am a reasonably level-headed adult now, of course. I grew up and gained experience and learned things and formed opinions about the world. I know now how radical Olive Oyl’s daydream was.

I am watching this election cycle (and, admittedly, ignoring a lot of it, because otherwise my head will explode and ohmygodnotanotherfuckingdebate) with my eyes covered, nervously peeking out between my fingers, and I’m trying to stifle my fear of Donald Trump actually becoming president with my excitement-mixed-with-anxiety over the thought of actually maybe electing our first female president. And I know that we also had that possibility in 2008, with the same woman, but it felt different then, less urgent. Eight years ago we had the choice between our potential first Black president and our potential first female president, and I was more than happy to concede to the former. It didn’t feel like a loss. I liked Obama; I believed he would be a great president and hopefully do great things. We had time. We would make history and then we could try again. But now it feels, more than ever, like this is our last good shot for a very long time. Oh, how naive we were in 2008! It feels like America has gotten more hostile, more misogynist, and that a lot of people in charge won’t be happy until we’re all back at home making babies and sandwiches. It feels like there is so much more at stake.

And this election cycle feels much more negative to me somehow, and it’s not just because of the standard-issue Hillary Hate that’s being trotted out. Hillary Clinton is probably the most hated woman in Washington. It’s cool to hate her. We’re all used to it. But I’ve read enough headlines and think pieces and seen enough memes in my Facebook feed to know that there’s a lot of in-fighting going on amongst Liberals and feminists alike, and one of the messages I keep hearing loudest basically boils down to ‘How can you vote for Stupid Evil Hillary and her Stupid Evil Vagina when you can instead vote for Revolution?’

And I say that electing a female president is a revolution.

I don’t think there’s any shame in admitting that part of the reason I support Hillary is because she’s a woman, and I want to see a woman elected president. I want it so badly that just thinking about it and how amazing that would be makes me teary-eyed. We’ve been waiting 240 years and it’s about fucking time already. But I do not want a Sarah Palin or a Carly Fiorina. I want a strong, qualified, experienced, capable and unabashedly feminist woman who supports and will fight for issues that are important to me and to other women I love and care about, who can get shit done and be a great president, and I think Hillary Clinton is that woman. And getting elected isn’t even the end of it, because the first female president will also have to serve as the One Example for All Her Gender, to prove beyond all doubt that this wasn’t a stupid idea and that women really can do this whole ‘president’ thing. She will face untold amounts of adversity; will have every decision, every waver of her voice, every motherfucking pantsuit and hair style choice scrutinised; will have so much mud and bullshit slung at her and will have to get up and scrape it off and endure it all again the next day. Remember when Cersei had to do the ‘Shame’ walk through the streets of King’s Landing in Game of Thrones (erm… spoilers)? It’ll be like that. For four years (maybe eight if she’s lucky). She will need the heart and stomach of a king. Much has already been written about all the crap Hillary has put up with since she became a public figure, and which she continues to put up with now, and in fact voluntarily submits herself to because she wants to be president and she knows this is the price of admission. She’s incredibly brave. She’s tough as nails. Who better to undergo the trial-by-fire of being the first female president? If not her, who? If not now, when?

Twenty-five years since Britain had its first and only female Prime Minister, and I can’t help but think that part of that is because Maggie Thatcher really fucked up the test (as well as the country), and – if only subconsciously – people are terrified of having another crazy lady in a leadership position.

I am nearly 37 years old, the planets have aligned and in 2016 I feel like this is the closest we’ve ever come – there is the very real possibility that it could finally happen, and if it doesn’t I’ll be heartbroken. And I want to be optimistic, to hope against hope that if it doesn’t happen now then it will happen soon, that we really have made millions of cracks in that glass ceiling, that I won’t have to wait another 37 years for the possibility. But experience and history tell me that I shouldn’t hold my breath.

Starman

I’m fucking gutted.

David Bowie was so deeply woven into our culture that I – and a lot of us, I think – took him for granted. He had always been there and would always be here. He was a fact of life. Like the sun. Or Christmas. His amazing body of work had ensured his immortality long ago, and had basically become wallpaper. By which I mean incredibly awesome and colorful wallpaper that you’ve had for decades and is part of your home so you don’t always think about it, but every so often you’re sitting in your living room and you look at the wallpaper and think, ‘Man, I really do love that wallpaper.’

That wallpaper was ‘Suffragette City’ in a bar in Moscow, Idaho, where a friend and I had been drinking all day and I don’t think I’d ever been that hammered before in my twenty-three years of life, and somehow we still managed to play pool. I have no idea how we got home.

That wallpaper was ‘Space Oddity’ on the car radio as one of my dearest high school friends and I drove down the road towards my house and childishly changed the lyrics to ‘shitting in a tin can’ and giggled like idiots.

That wallpaper was Jareth, the Goblin King. My first celebrity crush, at age 7.

That wallpaper was ‘Let’s Dance’ at a wedding in 2011, where I danced with the man who would become my husband, and I realised then, as I sang along to the lines, ‘and if you say run, I’ll run with you,’ that he was the person I wanted to spend my life with.

That wallpaper was the BBC footage of him performing ‘Starman’, and (my favorite bit) that awkward kid in the rainbow jumper dancing in the background, staring off into space – in that moment unaware of his small place in music history.

That wallpaper was the radio programme about Bowie’s music and influences that we listened to this past weekend. ‘He hasn’t died, has he?’ I asked, only half seriously. ‘No, it’s to celebrate his birthday,’ my husband said.

This morning I listened to ‘Life on Mars?’ as I got dressed for work, and his voice lifted up in that beautiful way it does on the word ‘sailors’, and suddenly there were tears in my eyes and I let out a little sob. I don’t remember ever being so sad and upset about the death of a musician. It was comforting just knowing he was around, part of the wallpaper.

Now he’s gone. But he will always be here.

 

Rivers of Blood

I know that I like to rant about how fucked up and wrong America can be whilst sitting atop my lofty perch in the UK, where everything is a perfect liberal utopia (they have a unicorn on their passport, for pete’s sake), but sometimes, even Britain gets it wrong.

This week MPs voted against a bill that would get rid of the VAT (basically ‘sales tax’ for my American brethren) currently levied on tampons and pads. The government is responding by claiming it is powerless to make those changes anyway and blaming the EU, which I suppose I can’t really argue with, but the fact that so many MPs straight up rejected the very idea of it is what really boggles my mind. How is this even controversial? In 2015?

Because, as it turns out, we are literally stuck in the 70s, which is when the decisions on what would be taxed and what wouldn’t – that is, what was a luxury and what was a basic necessity – were made. And we can’t just go back and change it. So, OK, I can kinda understand how the polyester-clad (and almost certainly male) powers that were in 1972 might consider menstrual products a ‘luxury’ – just look at all the fun those women in Tampax adverts are having playing tennis and doing gymnastics in their white leotards! But surely we can all agree, in 2015, that we fucked up and that tampons and pads are in fact a necessity? (If you think a tampon is merely a luxury, may you never find yourself stuck somewhere inconvenient, mid… ahem… flow, without one.) Why wasn’t this vote unanimous? And why the fuck did some female MPs vote against this? Way to betray the sisterhood, ladies.

My personal Tampons of Choice* cost £1.89 for 32 tampons (this may get a bit TMI, but fuck it, who cares!). That works out to about 6p per tampon. On average, when Aunt Flo is visiting, I’ll go through four in one day, so that’s 24p per day. So over the course of a typical five-day period I’m paying £1.20 for the luxury of having my menses soaked up by a wad of cotton instead of ruining all my pants. Twelve periods per year comes to £14.40. I realise this isn’t a huge amount of money, but when you consider I’ve been paying that (give or take) for about 23 years so far, that’s £331.20 I’ve shelled out for tampons. And I’m buying the cheap ones; some other tampons can cost twice as much. I’m 36, and my two-second Google research says the average age of menopause is 51, so I’ve got another 15 years – or £216 – left to go. That’s roughly £550 that I’d really much rather be spending on something else, and which my male cohorts are happily spending on, like, video games and guitars and whiskey or whatever.

And I know that life isn’t fair and as a Woman Who Menstruates, I’ve gotta suck it up and buy tampons and get on with my relatively privileged life. But I certainly wouldn’t mind a little acknowledgement that I and other women maybe kinda shouldn’t have to pay a tax for that. It’s not 1972 anymore.

* Tampon of Choice is also the name of my riot grrl band.