Archive for July, 2010

Casual Misogyny

Earlier in the week I was dragging a heavy shopping trolley in one arm with a stuffed sack over the other shoulder out of Superquinn, as I do at least twice a week.  The trolley bulged to the degree that I was unable to close the flap with the paper towels poking from the top.  I crossed the street to the sidewalk in front of the Frascati Centre here in Blackrock and made it to the exit lane of the parking lot before a mini van, behind which sat a driver who blared the horn despite the fact that I was through it without his vehicle needing to slow or brake.  When the honking continued, I flipped the driver the finger and kept walking.  Once round George’s Avenue, I met the vehicle at the first intersection there at Frascati Park.  He was waiting for me, red-faced and angry.  I attempted to maneuver the cart around the mini van until he pulled out to block my path, so that he could scream at me for the criminal offense I’d committed, for which he claimed to have just reported me to the guards.  His accent was watered down Cockney like he was a reject from a Guy Ritchie production.  The man berated me for rogue jaywalking and for flinging an obscene gesture in the presence of his daughter.  I glanced at the passenger seat to see what looked to be a fourteen year-old girl, eyes wide with interest.  She didn’t look embarrassed, more like excited to see dad giving me the verbal assault.

For days I have been kicking myself for missing the teachable moment, for not pointing out the real lesson her father was imparting that day, instead of the lesson in vigilante justice he thought he was passing on to the girl.  No, lovely young one, your daddy showed you what you have to look forward to for the rest of your life as a woman.  Strange men will not hesitate to bully you on the street, to harass, belittle, hector and badger, just because they see you as lesser than.  Bidisha’s recent article on casual sexism up at the Guardian  focused largely on what was said about women behind their backs, but holy crap if a woman’s personhood isn’t in fact held in open disregard by far too many men choked by privilege and entitlement.  Bidisha’s spot on to point out that you can tell a woman hater by the language they use, not to mention how they engage women directly.  Any man who follows a woman in his car to yell that she doesn’t have a right to the sidewalk is carrying a virulent strain of misogyny.  You can’t help the misogynists you’re related to; give all the others as much distance as you can manage.  That’s the lesson I wish the girl had learned this week.

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London, summer 1993. Patting my pocket to check I hadn’t forgotten the money, I passed the bathroom mirror without a glance. My face was clean but my hair was probably a mess as the closest I came to caring about appearance was to occasionally use a nailbrush when my hands got really manky. I knew how I looked: a plastic dummy swung on a necklace and the bright red t-shirt I wore was the cleanest I had. Clothes were useful for pockets and wiping hands on when you spent all day outdoors with your friends. We were guttersnipes, fiercely independent, impudent and savvy as Brixton had taught us to be. Roaming freely, we’d chat openly to strangers in our broad Sarf Lahndahn accents while keeping a wary distance, eyes as sharp as any Dickensian pickpocket. I was twelve, the second-eldest of our group and bookish, which meant imaginative and so by some strange childish default, the leader. Each day I had to devise games and decide where we’d go, commanding my scruffy chums into exploring thickets and bushes of the park to build dens, collect acorns, beech nuts, conkers and elderberries or challenge strange children who dared cross our territory. We’d venture into the underground garages and lock-ups below the flats where we lived in search of grimy treasure hauls, broken radios and bald tyres, or sneak over the high wall that was supposed to protect an apple tree from nicking urchins like us. I was not off to meet my friends on this occasion, although I didn’t know it, I was leaving my childhood behind.

A tightly-knit bunch of six by day, each night after dinner when the sun had cooled the scattered knots of local kids would untangle into one mass of all ages in the nearby playground. There we’d assert our place in the hierarchical ranks, show off, poke things with sticks or scrape bricks and generally lark about with different people. Lee was older by about six months, skinny with shorn blond hair but brown eyebrows and lashes that made his blue eyes look darker. He ran about with his own group of boys and a few weeks before had sneaked up behind and poured a bottle of freezing water down my back. I reacted with fury, chasing him and knocking him to the ground where we struggled to hit each other unsuccessfully. Storming off, I swore revenge and wondered how best to get back at him as the older boys whistled and the teenage girls sitting on the swings goaded Lee to “go after his girlfriend”. How ridiculous, I thought, as if I’d go near a creep like Lee Combes! My boyfriend would be called Josh or Damon and would have floppy long hair and baggy jeans instead of the frayed shorts and trainers Lee wore. He’d read Stephen King and listen to Megadeth rather than Look-In and East 17, and instead of asthma and glasses he’d bring me on dates and live in a house with an apple tree in the garden.

I was still raging as I mounted the steps up to our maisonette when I heard my name called. Lee stood at the bottom, wheezing.
“Piss off, I don’t want to talk to you.”
“What’s the matter? It’s only a bit of water.”
“Everyone was laughing! It’s embarrassing!”
“Don’t be such a girl.”
“Say that after I thump you on the nose. I’m going to get changed.”

He was still outside twenty minutes later after I’d exchanged my t-shirt for a dry one, made a sandwich and stood at the door of the living room to watch the end of The Bill.

“Well, what dyou want?”
“Nuffin’ really. What you doing now?”
“Nuffin’. Staying in.”
“Don’t, it’s still bright.”
“Don’t care. I ain’t going back there.”
“Stay ‘ere then.”
“Wiv you? Huh.”
“Yeah, wiv me…come on, let’s get on the roof.” Each upper flat had a small shed built on either side of the steps, fencing in the yard of the lower premises. He stood up and held out his hand, partly as a peace offering and to help me up. I ignored it but got to my feet and he grinned, clambering up on to the adjoining wall. I followed and we sat there catching the last of the evening rays amongst the honeysuckle creeper that covered the brickwork, picking the flowers for the sweet drop of nectar nestled at the base of the stigma.

So it continued for the next two weeks, every night after dinner Lee would be waiting and we’d drift off together. I showed him our secret dens, he brought me to the old house that a bunch of hippies had abandoned, leaving a harem of cats behind. We’d walk to the “bad park” where a senile old lady used to wander cradling a baby doll until she’d been found raped and murdered. We’d sit in high grass on the banks of the pond, watching the water boatmen push their way across the surface and talk about our friends, popstars, games and elaborate daydreams that involved mansions with swimming pools and never-ending ice creams. Parents and the future were rarely mentioned. After nine days of this, he began to hold my hand. Two days later, we kissed, hard little lips pecking at each others’ face before slobbering tongues met awkwardly and we broke apart, trying to discreetly wipe away the ring of moisture that swept from nose to chin until our eyes met and we fell about giggling in the weeds.

On day fourteen, red-shirted and unruly-coiffed, I walked down the steps to find Lee waiting on the roof as usual. I’d not forgotten my dating ideals of Josh-Damon and had decided that it was time to take things to the next level. I set off towards the local shops where a typical English greasy-spoon cafe stood along with a Greek grocery, Maltese launderette and Pakistani newsagent. Instead of buying penny mix-ups and ‘ice-poles’, that day’s pocket money had been saved and along with a pound cadged from my mum, I had about £2.50 in my pocket. The cafe was empty when we walked in, two twelve year-old street rats who’d never ordered anything in a restaurant before.

“What we doing in ‘ere?”
“I want a milkshake. You got any money?”
“Nah, spent it dint I?”
“Right, well don’t worry. Go and sit down.”
“Where?” Lee looked around at the empty cafe in astonishment. “In ‘ere?!”
“What do you want?” the owner was a heavy, tired-looking old guy of about fifty with big freckles and muddy tattoo marks on his forearms. “You gonna order summink or what?”
“Yeah, two chocolate milkshakes please.”
“That’ll be £3.”
“Oh. I only have £2.50…can you let us off?”
“No I bloody can’t! It’s £3!”
“Uh…fine. One milkshake in two glasses please.”
“You’re cheeky int ya? I’ll give ya two straws.”
“Oh cheers, I’ll leave your tip in the glass shall I?” He looked like he would have clipped me round the ear if it wasn’t for my grubby handful of coins.

“I don’t like chocolate,” Lee looked uncomfortable. “You shoulda got chips.”
“Already had my dinner. Dint you get yours?”
“Why not…?” Dishes clattered in the background.
“Just didn’t.” He gave the beige milk-sludge a moody poke with his straw. Silence fell.
“What you doing tomorrah?”
“Dunno…what you looking at?”
“Tonya just walked past the window. I fink she seen us.”
“So?” I shrugged. “Tonya’s all right.”
“She’s probably gonna tell everyone. Come on, let’s go.”
“No, I ain’t finished! Stop worrying.”
He lolled in his seat, looking sullen and frustrated. “Hurry up. I wanna go.”
“Oh shut up moaning. I thought it’d be fun. We never do anything.”
“What you on about? We do loads, we go loadsa places.”
“Yeah, boring places. Kids’ places. We’re not kids any more.”
“I dunno…” Lee was hurt. “I like ‘em.”
“Yeah well, if we’re gonna-” I broke off. At least ten faces peered in through the window, hands banging on the glass, most of them made up of older kids. The younger ones were already barging into the cafe, hooting and yelling “woooooo!”
“Oh no….” Lee groaned, shrinking away from me, his face bright red with embarrassment. “I knew Tonya was gonna dob us in.” Indeed, Tonya could be seen outside, bent double with laughter as her friends milled around pointing at us.
“OI! Cut it aaaht!” The owner was yelling from behind the counter as Lee’s friends crowded around our table cheering and elbowing. The teenage boys bounded in.
“Well, well, look at the lovebirds…you getting married? You gonna ‘ave kids?”
“OUT if you ain’t buyin’!” came another roar. Lee looked at me for a millisecond before shrugging off his mates and hurrying out, where louder whoops greeted his appearance. Most of the kids left. I stayed to hoover up the dregs from the bottom of the glass. “You an’ all!” Bawled the old guy, looking even more tired. “Leave it and go.”

Romance was dead before it ever started. Like the after-image of a lightbulb staining the vision for ages after one foolish glance, I couldn’t shake off the look of horror on Lee’s face when his friends saw us together. I thought he liked me, I thought he wanted to be real friends, I sighed, determined not to cry over a creep like Lee Combes. I should’ve waited for Josh-Damon to show up. I should have made him try harder, should have never let him get away with soaking me, I should never have tried to change things…we should have stayed in the flowers or by the pond instead of trying to be something else. Dejected, I mentally kicked myself, setting up a guilt complex that would never leave me. Used to being in charge and making decisions, I had drank the nectar too soon, before the wonderful world of womanhood blossomed before me. Well that was it with boyfriends I reasoned. Never again.

I walked home on my own and went in, even though it was still bright. The next evening, there was no one waiting in the honeysuckle.

Naomi McArdle

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I’m outta here!

Women fed up with lads’ mags and sexist language undermining our struggle to be taken seriously and treated equally could follow the example of Guardian columnist Wendy Roby who encouraged her readers to engage in random acts of feminism. Roby argues very persuasively that “signs of female solidarity in unlikely places might prove a useful weapon in the feminist’s arsenal”. The creative schemes dreamed up by her and her legions of willing fans included placing copies of Good Housekeeping on top of the latest lads’ mags or attaching Post-it notes pre-inscribed with thought provoking comments like “Real Men Buy Books”, and speech bubbles saying, “I am somebody’s sister” to their covers. Others put fake calling cards in phone boxes helpfully including a premium rate astrology hotline at the bottom. The funniest example of all was from one reader who took pity on the blond trapped in the highest turret of a pink plastic castle in a toy shop. This enterprising woman took a tiny card from her handbag and placed the following beside the princess’s head. “Please let me out. I gotta get to work!” What dastardly schemes would Irish women come up with?

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Ah, the c-word. That’s cunt, by the way. Recently several Anti-Room contributors were discussing how they feel about this loaded word, so we decided it was time for a group post.

The Cuntpower Issue of Oz, edited by Germaine Greer in 1970. They couldn't put the c-word on the cover, though.


You’ll only hear this word from me once: cunt. And I only spell it out here in all its inglorious four-letter violence because I don’t want any confusion about which c-word I hate. Men: by all means have your own discussion about cock. If you feel degraded by its use, then I will of course stop using it.

The Vagina Monologues told women to reclaim the c-word by using it as often as possible to denude it of its power to shock. Well, fanny to that. I don’t want to get used to hearing it used as punctuation, adjective and verb.

You, my female friend who once called me a ‘lucky c***’ with alleged affection, and you, my male friend who reserves it for sports rivals, wash your mouths out. As long as someone somewhere is using it to verbally assault a woman, I don’t want to hear it.


Let me preface this by saying that I personally think we could really do without swearing on The Anti-Room at all. I think we are perfectly capable of getting our argument or opinion across with resorting to cursing.


Perhaps having gown up with an ex-army man who used it as verb, noun, adverb and adjective, I am pretty much immune to the much ballyhooed shock value of the word ‘cunt’. It’s a crass swear word to be sure, but no worse than any other the other swear words we might use in a day. I have never understood why people spell it, or write ‘the c- word’, any more than I understand people utter ‘dropped the f-bomb’. Weaselly claptrap. Either swear or don’t, but why nit pick over which swear word is acceptable and which is not? I realise not everyone is so unperturbed by its usage, but unless agreed swearing is verboten on a group blog – which is absolutely fine by me – the word cunt should no more be avoided than any other swear word. It is the venom behind a swear that makes it powerful, not the actual word itself. Swear or swear not, there is no middle ground.


In North Dublin ‘cunt’ was a term of endearment. “Go wan ye cunt ye!” usually meant: “you jammy git” and referred to someone who’d won on the horses, bagged a girl more than one man was after or won a turkey in a Christmas raffle. It was also used to mock someone, usually a young guy who’d made a fool of himself in some way. “He’s a right cunt, isn’t he!?” I didn’t particularly twig that it was a derogatory epithet or a ‘vulgarism’ re: women’s private parts. When I moved to England – and later at University – this became abundantly clear. I still hear the word used in its North Dublin form on the 13A bus regularly. Despite its ‘nasty’ connotations, Irish men seem to think it’s ‘kinky’ to use the word in bed (a lot). As do East European mafia, before they shoot someone in the head.


Despite being another northsider (June and I went to the same secondary school!), I hardly ever heard the word cunt when I was growing up. I wasn’t even aware of it until I was a teenager, and then I knew it was a taboo word, the worst thing you could ever call someone, which was why no one seemed to use it. And as I grew older, I found myself questioning why this was. Why should it be so much worse than ‘dick’? What did that say about our attitudes to women’s bodies? And would – and should – most of us ever use it as a word for that body part itself? Then, in 1998, when I was working on my MA thesis about the legendary ‘60s counterculture magazine Oz, I discovered the Cuntpower/Female Energy Issue of Oz that Germaine Greer edited in 1970. In it, the future author of The Female Eunuch proudly reclaimed the word as part of an active rather than passive female sexuality. Her no-nonsense approach to the word appealed to me, and I found myself agreeing with her desire to reclaim the c-word from misogyny.

And yet while I don’t have a problem with it in theory, I still never really use ‘cunt’, either as a word for vagina or as a swear word. Maybe it’s because I never got into the habit of using it, or because at the back of my mind I think it still retains some sort of shocking power. The last time I called someone a cunt, I was giving out about the Pope and his ability to condemn gay marriage while brushing off child rape. I was so angry with him that only the most extreme word I could think of would do. And for better or worse, that’s still cunt.

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The other day, I found myself in Hodges Figgis with a friend of mine, who was looking for “a book about anxiety; but none of that self-help shit”. He was milling around the psychology section, attempting to find something that didn’t have a punchy subtitle, in the vein of “think yourself calm!” Needless to say, he was grossly disappointed, and ended up feeling slightly more anxious, thanks, in no small part, to my reading out excerpts from the hilarious self-help books I was finding. “Feel the fear!” I shouted to his retreating back. “And do it anyway!” (He kept telling me to whisper, to which I will respond: it’s a bookshop, not a library.)

The point, of course, is that he found a book –Going Mad – and, while he was attempting to find the diamond in the rough of self-help, I was attempting to find the rough. I decided, in those 15 minutes, that I would read both The Rules and The Game, in an attempt to discover the following:

a) Why did a man I went on a date with recently tell me I was damaged, and still expect that I would be interested?

b) Why does a friend of mine insist that I shouldn’t text or call any man first? She would practically extend this to the

plumber, were it not for the urgency of that call, because she claims that “you just don’t know when you might meet the one”.

c) Why do so many of my friends insist on “playing the game”, rather than just living their lives?

I decided that the answer to these questions (and so many more!) would lie within The Rules and, to a certain extent, The Game – although now that I have started the former, I wonder if reading the latter will just confuse my brain to the point that I will then be more determined than I am now to live alone with dozens of cats and my collection of Penguin classics.

Lest I ruin the entire book by writing an epic, scathing blog post about it, this is merely an introduction, which I will give by way of the following quote (paraphrased):

It goes against nature if a woman chases a man, or sleeps with him too soon, or begs him to marry her. He may end up mistreating her [women!  Have you been mistreated? Well, you know who to blame now!]. He may resent her for trapping him and will treat her badly.


There are 52 rules, all of which I’m not going to get into because wikipedia can help you more than I care to, but I will say this: Don’t read The Rules. Take that couple of hours (which you will surely never get back) and make a delicious sandwich. Go to the museum. Go for a swim. Hell, go to the dentist, which would be more enjoyable and, without a doubt, more beneficial.

If you’re still skeptical about this hodge-podge analysis, watch this space. Coming up: why you should get a nose job, why you should never admit what you’re feeling, and how you hook a man (namely, by hiding every shred of yourself until there’s little more left than a slight resemblance to a Stepford Wife and some careful hair-tossing).

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Since reading this post on social etiquette by US blogger Maggie Mason earlier in the week, I’ve been mulling over my own social graces (or lack thereof). I’d like to think I was reared reasonably well, and parts of her list make perfect sense to me, but I can’t quite get my head around some of her advice.

For starters, I’m all for throwing my own parties, as are my friends (with the exception, lately, of hen parties). As an unemployed bum earlier this year, I didn’t particularly fancy celebrating my birthday, and would have been morto if a friend had organised something for me. Surely one should be able to choose if and when and how one celebrates?

Then there’s the question of the thank-you note. I keep a stash of thank-you cards in my desk – and use them as occasion arises – but if Maggie’s guidelines are to be followed they are, in fact, a cop-out, and I should be sticking to the Basildon Bond instead. Is there really that much of a difference? Is a pre-printed card better than no card at all?

And last, but not least, there’s the condiment situation. There’s no room in my poky apartment kitchen for anything other than my originally-packaged Heinz and Colman’s and Branston so, out on the table they go. Plus, I rather like their kitschy packaging.

So, Anti-Roomers, please tell me, for I am bewildered: am I a complete oaf? What would make it into your etiquette guide? Or, when it comes to socialising, should etiquette guides be binned entirely in favour of plain old individual common sense? Answers on a sheet of Basildon Bond, please.

Catherine Brodigan

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One need not be familiar with Chekov’s gun as a narrative principle to know that a plot regarding a secret military experiment containing a dozen vampires in a subterranean facility is bound to feature a hunt for human blood.  After a superlative first three sections, I went through the rest of Justin Cronin’s “The Passage” with a grimace.  By the time I’d finished, I felt as though I’d been through a two-day ordeal hunkered down with the novel.  Not only because I prefer my vampires of the seductive and hot sex variety as in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series, but due to the massive amount of detail and presence of so many formulaic characters and scenarios, along with heavy handed Biblical allusions.  Had Cronin’s novel finished closer to four hundred rather than right under eight hundred pages, my estimation likely would have been kinder, instead of feeling like I’ve had an overwrought mash up of “The Matrix” and “28 Days Later” franchises.

Did readers really need to come across the advice “They come from above.  You only get one shot”  or the reference to the “sweet spot,” the vulnerable target in centre of the vampire’s chest cavity so frequently?  Was it necessary to have no less than three characters with vital information to impart to the hero Peter, just in the nick of time, that crucial turning point to move the action along?  If I had a box of maps or information, I’d tell you sooner rather than later to save you the corn-pone hero and his quest tropes.  Do we really need two wizened black women whose purpose in life is to assist the hero whilst one makes clichéd cups of wretched tea?  Did we really need to have a detailed account of multiple characters having the same dream in order to understand Babcock?  He’s evil; we get it.  Why didn’t Cronin directly say that Olson was running the ultimate fundamentalist Mormon compound?  When Jude pulled the move from “Cape Fear” and when the dog showed up, I almost slammed the book shut.

“The Passage” requires a huge investment of your time.  At the moment, I can’t think of any reason why you should pick up the book unless you want check out the buzz for yourself.

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