real life

HOT FEMINIST: 'I find being offended all the time exhausting'.

Journalist Polly Vernon is the author of the book Hot Feminist. And as you are about to find out in this extract, she doesn’t really care if you don’t approve of her.

A barista apologised to me for using the word ‘chick’.

‘It’s a contextual thing!’ he said, hastily, frothing my milk.

‘Huh?’ I said, for I had been too busy surreptitiously eying up the lay of his abs beneath his T-shirt to focus on his chat. He is young and shaggy-hairedly cute, and he wants to be a video director one day, unless that’s the other one? It might be the other one. This one might be the poet. Well. He is definitely one of my top ten baristas, a mental chart I carry around and reconfigure regularly in my head, which rates all my favourite coffee boys in accordance with their physical charm, their chat, and their ability to make my Flat White just perfectly, bonus points if I don’t even have to remind them what my order is.

Polly Vernon, author of ‘Hot Feminist’. Image: @pollyvernon

I am a terminal letch. I consider fancying people to be a feminist act.

‘She calls herself “chick” – but I think with irony – so I was thinking of that when I said it, but then actually, as a feminist, I do really hate the word myself, so . . .’

‘Do you?’ I said. ‘I couldn’t give a monkeys. Call me chick any time.’ Then I took my coffee from his hand, winked at him and playfully smacked his arse.

No. I didn’t, really. In my head, I did. But I did tell him ‘chick’ doesn’t bother me. Because it doesn’t. As a feminist, I reserve the right to not be offended by the word ‘chick’. Or by almost everything, mainly because being offended requires vast quantities of energy, and I have little left over, what with all the lusting after baristas I do.

Here’s some other things which don’t offend me, not one jot. Being called ‘love’ by some bloke, or ‘darling’, or ‘lady’, or ‘girl’. (Although I do think that last one is pushing it on a trade description level, increasingly.) I don’t love being called ‘madam’, but that’s a question of vanity muddled up with an instinctive repulsion at the unique combination of snottiness and toadying the word suggests; it’s got nowt to do with gender politics.

I don’t like being referred to as ‘a female’ admittedly, don’t entirely enjoy being reduced to my biological function. But I’m fine with ‘babe’. ‘OK, but say a male boss calls you “babe”,’ says Original E. ‘Surely that’s not OK? Surely that suggests an inappropriate level of intimacy, or a tendency to patronise, or at the very least that he doesn’t take you entirely seriously?’ ‘I don’t have any male bosses,’ I say, which is true. I’ve tried them in the past; they didn’t suit me, I got shot. All my bosses are women.

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E sighs, because I’m ‘so literal’. ‘What if you did have a male boss, and he called you “babe”?’ she goes on. ‘It’d very much depend on my relationship with him, his intentions, the subtext of the situation, whether or not he was gay, whether or not I liked him and felt that he liked me. I’ve been called “babe” with affection, even respect. And I’ve been spoken to, by men, in ways which would technically tick every box on the ‘respectful engagement with a woman’ checklist, but which dripped with quiet contemptor basic dislike.’

‘Yeah. Well. I still think “babe” is dicey, as a rule,’ says E. ‘Oh, you and your rules, E!’ I say. Other things which don’t offend me: I don’t mind being wolf-whistled, if I consider the wolf whistle to have been delivered with profound reverence, that the whistler whistles in the vein of one dreaming of something he’ll never have. I don’t much like it when they (1) direct the kind of noises at you they might also make trying to attract the attention of a recalcitrant cat (I am not a cat), and I did mind it that time one of them pulled up alongside me at some traffic lights, looked over, and said, quite as if he were asking the time: ‘Excuse me. I was wondering. Do you take it up the arse?’

(1. You know them. The Men.)

I got offended the time I thought the cute guy and I were eyeing each other up in a mutual flurry of casual midday fancying, only then he accused me of looking at him ‘funny’ because he was black; at which point I stuttered: ‘I’m not racist! I’m lecherous!’ Which didn’t help. But if they’re pausing briefly to express some form of admiration with whole words/a whistle: honestly? It doesn’t appal me.

I do not get remotely offended if a man holds a door open for me, or offers me his seat on public transport. Does any woman, ever, actually mind that? Soft sexism, (2) I believe it’s been re-branded, because it’s imbued with the suggestion that women are meek, weak and weary creatures, who can neither open their own doors, nor stand up for half an hour while their tube rockets round the underground system like a demented mole.

Me? I’ve always viewed that sort of offer as the acknowledgment that I am either too obviously hung-over to remain upright, what with the remnants of last night’s dry white having saturated my inner ear and screwed up my capacity to balance; or too obviously over-burdened to have a hope in hell of opening my own doors. My capacity to collect baggage –canvas tote bags, Sainsbury’s carriers; laptops, tablets,iPhones and Kindles I somehow failed to put away properly when the opportunity presented itself; paperback books (even though I’ve got the Kindle); six packs of Coke Zero; and a spare pair of shoes in their very own drawstring pouch – is stunning. It’s nothing to do with my being a woman, everything to do with me being over ambitious and, also, freelance: when you’re not tied to an office, you have to carry all office requirements around with you, like an urban Nomad.

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(2 I think they’ve missed a trick there, I’d have gone with Sexism Lite.
Snappier, more European.)

As a consequence, I have oddly strong fingers, and a semi-permanent need of someone else to open doors for me. But no, I’ve never met any woman who does mind the door-opening seat-offering routine, although I have met a few men who say they’re far too wary of sparking a feminist meltdown to dare offer any chick (see? I use it myself) such services; reading between the lines, I think what they actually mean is: they can’t be bothered and they love having that seat too much to give it away. I do not get offended by the widespread practice of photoshopping commercial and editorial images of beautiful women; in which the already-minimal flaws on the faces and bodies of models hired to prance and pose and show off clothes or handbags or just themselves, on the covers of magazines, are digitally eradicated.

I think I’m supposed to be offended. A lot of people say they are horrifically affronted by photoshopping. Losing sleep and waging cold, cultural wars against it. There’s a feeling that Photoshop is destroying women’s self-confidence, landscaping our world with images of physical perfection we can’t hope to live up to, not least because not even the women in the pictures look like that, not in real life.

The phenomenally influential blog Jezebel.com describe itself as offering ‘Celebrity, sex, fashion for women. Without airbrushing’, ‘airbrushing’ being a charmingly retro word for the practice of Photoshop, although knowing the speed at which technology moves, ‘Photoshop’ will be a charmingly retro word for Photoshop, by the time this gets printed. One of Jezebel’s many schticks is to identify incidences of Photoshop in advertisements or on the printed pages of magazines which it considers especially dangerous, or remiss, or deceptive. Jezebel is in the habit of posting Before and After Photoshop images, pinpointing the varied ways in which the pics have been tinkered with; because Jezebel does not approve of Photoshop! Nor do some politicians.

Hot Feminist. Image: @pollyvernon

Periodically, I hear rumours that someone or other’s thinking seriously about anti-Photoshop legislation. The Liberal Democrats are all over it, junior Minister for Women and Equalities Jo Swinson has very much made it her Thing; in the US, an organisation called Off Our Chests launched a movement called The the Self Self-Esteem Act, which campaigns for clarification on Photoshopped images, for stickers alerting all those who encounter Photoshopped images to the fact that they’ve been Photoshopped. But I don’t care about Photoshop! Not a bit! If anything, I’m offended by the idea that I’d be offended by Photoshop.

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First, because I know it happens, what with me not being completely bloody stupid. Anyone who ever whacked a filter on their own Instagram shot knows digital trickery happens, knows that the truth behind every photo is a lot less pretty than it first seems. Anyone who ever went to see a Spielberg film knows that! Second, because I already know models and film stars are better looking than me! Like: loads! Younger and firmer and fresher and thinner,  with vast eyes and rosebud lips and silken, silken hair!

Even without Photoshop, they’d be a lot better looking than me. Being better looking than me is their job! And I don’t mind! My self-esteem is not impacted one way or the other by a passing glimpse of Gisele Bundchen’s honeyed thighs, or Cara Delevingne’s immaculate cheekbones, or Miranda Kerr’s spectacularly perky bottom! Not a jot! And yes, I understand that the concern is for eyes and minds younger than mine; but let’s give teenage girls an option on not feeling like victims, eh? Let’s suppose some of them – maybe even lots of them – aren’t destroyed by those images, aren’t deflated or diminished. Let’s certainly accept they know more than we ever will about the digital altering of media, because that’s what happens when you and Facebook were born at roughly the same time.

I am not offended by the amount of women who aren’t on TV panel shows, because I can’t stand TV panel shows (too dull! Have you seen them? I mean – really! How could I be offended by my gender not being integrated into a format which is outdated and ruefully lacking in imagination? I am grateful, if anything); nor am I offended by crowd shots of sporting events which focus on the hot girlfriends of competing athletes. Or by, I dunno, the semiotics of twerking. Or Game of Thrones, HBO’s blockbuster TV adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s novels about a fantasy power struggle in a fantasy land which is not unlike medieval England in a lot of respects, give or take the zombies. Obsessed, yes! Totally, utterly, joyfully obsessed! But not offended.

‘What about all the gratuitous nudity, what about the sky-high tit count?’ asked my friend Ross (a boy feminist), anxiously. ‘I know! It’s excellent, isn’t it?’ I said. ‘And also: the wolves!’ I didn’t get offended that time Cosmopolitan magazine ran a series of sex tips for lesbians, and I didn’t get offended when the Daily Mail featured commentary on the clothing choices of some newly appointed female Tory MPs. ‘But when a newspaper does something like that, it reinforces the idea that women’s first purpose will only ever be decorative,’ rages E, who is losing patience with me fast; but then, she often does. ‘Only if you think a woman can’t simultaneously be well-dressed and potentially really good at her job,’ I say. ‘Only if you assume she’s peaked at coordinating her skirt and her tights. I don’t. I’d go as far as to say it suggests a level of base competence which hints at a wider-reaching potential for competence, one which could well include running the country, not least because they presumably knew the paps would be there that day, and correctly anticipated that.’

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‘But no one ever talks about what the male politicians are wearing,’ she countered. ‘No, and they bloody should! It’s a disgrace. I don’t think female politicians should care less about their physical appearance, I think the male ones should care more. Much, much more! Dudes! People can see you!’ (The whole episode reminded me of the time I took a woman lawyer friend shopping in advance of her making a high-profile court appearance, one she knew would result in her being photographed on her way into the courtrooms. In a move that was definitively Hot Feminist in nature, she told me that she’d taken the time to badly advise a clueless and arrogant male colleague on what he should be wearing to undertake the equivalent walk into court, thus ensuring that he looked awful in all resulting newspaper coverage.‘It’s not my fault he didn’t realise the suit I told him he should totally buy and wear was a fucking revolting colour,’ she said.)

I don’t rage against the continued existence of the Sun’s Page Three. I mean, I’m surprised anyone wants to look at those daily updated, full-page shots of a 23-year-old’s boobs, what with the internet flushing free, moving porn direct to everyone’s smart phone. Page Three seems archaic and a bit infantile, and if I were the Sun I’d ditch it from a journalistic perspective, rather than a feminist one. It’s been done and overdone, and bums are much more of the moment anyway. But I don’t rage against it. My friend L is furious about Page Three, hugely involved with the campaign to eradicate it. She has the T-shirt, she celebrated in January 2015, when it looked like the Sun had dropped the feature, once and for all . . . Then she wept with frustration when it turned out it hadn’t, after all. L thinks I should be furious, like her. ‘WHY aren’t you offended?’ L says. ‘Because I’m just not,’ I say. ‘I can’t fake offense if I don’t feel it, can I?’ ‘But you care about the incidences of rape in this country!’ L tuts, which indeed – I really do. More on this shortly. ‘

‘Rape, Page Three; it’s all part of the same thing, a culture which objectifies and dehumanises women. You can’t care about one, but not the other. You just can’t.’ ‘OK, well, I think I can,’ I say. ‘Maybe rape and Page Three are interconnected, but I don’t honestly think we’ll end rape by ending Page Three. I think we’ll end rape by focussing specifically on ending rape, and that Page Three will die its own tired little death in its own time.’

‘So why can’t we fight to end both?’ asks L. ‘Because it’s knackering and I haven’t got the energy,’ I say. ‘Also, I don’t feel Page-Three-related offence in my gut.’ ‘Well, I do,’ L says. ‘Then fight on, my friend,’ I say; which of course, she will.

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Polly Vernon, author of Hot Feminist.

Here’s where the Hot Feminist stands on being offended by stuff: we keep our fury focused, pure and sincere. We do this for a couple of reasons. We do it because we know that if we fake offence about the things we don’t really feel offended by – the things which kinda vaguely irritate us, or seem a bit odd or a little off, but don’t make our blood boil and our head hurt and our fingers itch with the sheer injustice of it all – but which other feminists insist we really should care about . . . If we fake offence in those circs, we’re being dishonest, which never helped anything in the long run; and we are diluting the full impact of our rage when we need to unleash it at a later date, at a point when it is honest. A feminist who doesn’t get offended by A, B, C or indeed D will be taken pretty bloody seriously when she kicks off about Y.

We also keep our fury focused, pure and sincere because to get angry about all the things, all the time – about every last transgression against womanhood, as perceived by all other women – is just not feasible. It’ll confuse you and distract you and overwhelm you with a sense that this is an unwinnable war of epic proportions.

I would never tell another feminist which battles they should fight, what should and shouldn’t offend them. If you, like L, loathe Page Three, if you view it as ground zero on a culture which continues to values youth and beauty in women over their ability to change or rule the world, then fight that recurring newspaper feature with every last breath in your body.

But I also defend my absolute right to not really be offended by a lot of things. It frees me up to care enormously about the things which do offend me. The things which do leave me genuinely, sincerely enraged; apoplectic, head-spinny, bile-spitting and incredibly sweary – even by my own, fundamentally foul-mouthed, standards.

Here are my top three. Thing One is the gender pay gap. The persistent and growing discrepancy between how much more money we pay men to do a job than we pay women to do the same, or a similar, job; which according to most recent figures means that women are paid an average of 81p to every male pound, and which, at current rates, will take another 60 years to correct, by which time I shall be dead. This is annoying. I’d like to see it sorted out.

When women work full time, we earn an average of £5,000 less than our male equivalents. Unless, apparently, we work – as I do – in the field of culture, media and sport, when we earn an average of 27.5 per cent, or £10,000 a year, less. Yay, culture, media and sport! Oh, but hang on . . . It’s worse if we work as health professionals, and loads worse if we’re working part time, when we earn an average of 35 per cent less per hour. Oddly, the precise same deficit applies if you’re a full time, all guns blazing female boss (3) .Thirty-five per cent less bucks to that woman than the guy running the next office along, please! I call it the Penis Upkeep Grant. I mean, that’s what it’s about, right? That’s why all our bosses just keep on dolingout more money to men than they do women? On and on, year in, year out, fixing the winning turns on the company’s One Armed Bonus Bandit machine so that it pays out for the chaps, while the ladies . . . the ladies just keep on missing out.

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(3) According to figures published in the 2014 National Management Survey, which showed that male company directors take home an average of £21,084 more than female colleagues in the 46–60 age bracket.

It’s so they can look after their penises properly. Good penis care costs big bucks. I get hazy on the details of what penises require, that accounts for £5 whole k annually. Pants, I suppose. Trousers. Jock straps, that could be some of it. Tape measures? Special unctions? Erm. Those devices you see advertised on email spam that offer to increase the size of your manhood? They must cost a bit. And, oh! Viagra! Of course. Talc? Men seem to like talcing their nobs. Or is it their balls, with the talc? It is, isn’t it? Side note: are balls included in the Penis Upkeep Grant scheme? I expect so.
If it isn’t Penis Upkeep which accounts for the big – and terrifyingly increasing, according to latest figures – shortfall in woman’s pay, then it’s . . . what? The instinctive and unshakable belief that men are just worth more money than women? That their Y chromosome and their extra testosterone is equivalent to Mulberry branding on a handbag: it imbues intrinsic, inarguable value? That can’t be right. Can it? I mean, I know it isn’t uniquely a consequence of the money women lose when – if – they take time away from their jobs to have children, because although that is a contributing factor in the pay gap (it shouldn’t be. But it is), figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the pay gap between men and women in their (often childless) twenties has doubled since 2010; also, new stats from the US testify to the gender pay gap setting in one tiny, tiny year after employees graduate from universities.So you see: it must be Penis Upkeep.

I am profoundly anti Penis Upkeep Grants, deeply and truly offended by them, on two counts. One: I like money, same as the next man; I need it, for buying stuff and doing stuff. My experience of working for or near or indeed, above, men, has taught me that I definitely should be paid in step with them. Rarely (4) have I ever encountered one who I thought was better than me at doing what I do. Two, I don’t think the maths add up. I don’t think penises do cost all that much; and, also, I don’t think whoever’s doing those particular accounts, has given adequate thought to how much it costs women to keep our bodies on the road. I mean, you would be hard pushed to get change from a fifty on a decent bra, these days, and don’t even talk to me about the exorbitant cost of periods! I am contemplating coordinating an anti Penis Upkeep Grant lobby. I’ll coordinate demonstrations, we will march on Parliament. We shall hold banners aloft which read: DOWN WITH PENIS Upkeep Grants.

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(4) I say rarely, I mean never.

And our emblem will be a Pug. As in P.U.G. Do you see? I do wish the politicians would talk more about that, and less about Photoshopping on adverts. It’s almost like they’re trying to bedazzle us with the small stuff – the stuff which isn’t all that consequential, and which, as an added bonus, they don’t really have to do anything much about – to distract us from the big, sticky, tricky stuff, stuff they could do something about.

In the meantime, I thoroughly encourage you to discuss your pay, openly and without embarrassment, in the name of encouraging all others to discuss theirs, which will in time bring about greater transparency in pay gaps; and then to swing by your line manager’s desk and ask for a meaningful pay increase, beyond anything inflation linked. You may not get it, but you should get used to asking for it. If it makes you uncomfortable (and heaven knows, women are not hardwired to ask for things), tell them I sent you. Tell them it’s a feminist act.

Thing Two, is this: The amount of women and girls that are getting raped and sexually assaulted. All the time. All over the shop. By all sorts of people. 85,000 of us are raped on average every year in England and Wales, according to figures released in January 2013 jointly by the Ministry of Justice, the Office of National Statistics and the Home Office; over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted every year, and one in five women aged 16–59, has experienced some form of sexual violence.

According to Rape Crisis, only 15 per cent of those women and girls who experience sexual violence report it to the police. Fewer still get their cases to court; far fewer get convictions. This is so staggeringly not OK it blows my tiny lady brain, and yet it’s also somehow not that shocking, is it? Because we know it’s happening. It’s either happened to us, or to someone we know, or we’ve just heard those figures, over and over, and become inured to them, almost bored by them. Rape is such an everyday crime, statistically speaking, it is so very boringly common, that it’s become almost unremarkable. That offends me. On top of the raping itself.

That pisses me off. The idea that rape is so prevalent, so damn ordinary, we’ve got almost rape-blind. Only really ghastly rapes capture our imaginations now. We expect something really fancy from rape, if we’re to pay it any mind. Like the horrific grooming, rape and violent sexual abuse of underage girls in Rotherham and Oxfordshire; or when a gang rape gets videoed for posterity, and the film goes viral; or when a convicted rapist footballer gets released from prison, and Twitter tries to work out whether he deserves to play professionally again. We need something truly horrific before we get interested.

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Oddly, we seem to get jolly excited by the malicious false reporting of rape, which, according to Crown Prosecution figures, could account for less than 1 per cent of reported cases. Other studies suggest it hovers around the 4 per cent mark, in line with the figure for false reporting of any crime. But fake rape garners big headlines, incommensurate media coverage. Maybe it’s because the false reporting of rape is so rare. It’s the Man Bites Dog approach to news, it’s only worth it when it’s weird. Or maybe it’s because we sort of really don’t want to think rape happens as often as it does, so we cling to the faux rape cases with passion. Magnify their significance, make them look bigger than the actual problem, so that the actual problem will appear to shrink.

Only of course, it doesn’t work like that. The actual problem – non-fake rape, non-fake sexual assault – is getting if anything bigger, more common. Which, on this scale, will make it more ignorable yet. Now, I don’t believe you have to experience something to be wholly fucking offended by it. I don’t think you have to have been subject to rape or sexual violence to understand how shit that might be, any more than you have to be gay to know that homophobia’s hideous, or non-Caucasian to think racism is, in the words of Richard Madeley (who I promise I’ll stop quoting soon), ‘thick’. However, as it happens, and I guess this shouldn’t be all that surprising, given the stats, I was sexually assaulted, by a stranger, on a canal path, when I was 18. Mine was one of the mundane, everyday ones; one of the ones no one’s that arsed about.

Let’s bookmark it. I’m not in the mood just yet, and it feels a little early in proceedings for such darkness. I’ll come back to it. But yeah. I am one of your one-in-five. Well. There was a 20 per cent chance I would be, wasn’t there?

And Thing Three is the gentle and not-so-gentle and definitely persistent attempts to limit our right to access legal and safe abortion. They come in waves and mutterings, they come from across the Atlantic ocean, in the US, where abortion is now restricted to the point of being illegal in nine different states. They come in the form of groups of British MPs sporadically campaigning to limit the powers of UK abortion providers like Marie Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service; or to reduce the cut-off point on abortions, which currently stands at 24 weeks; or ban abortion on the grounds of sex selection. (Anyone who says they ‘only’ want to reduce any of the grounds on legal abortion, doesn’t ‘only’ do anything. What they really want is to make abortion illegal, quibbling over questions of weekly limits is an attempt at kicking off a war of attrition.)

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I’ve had three abortions. Yeah, you read right. Three. I am railing against the thought that I have to explain that ‘three’ away, I mean, with any line other than: ‘Because shit happens.’ Because shit does happen, and because no one ever asked a man to explain the part he played in an unwanted pregnancy (or three). Yet I feel as if I do have to explain, because I can see that three abortions seems like a lot of abortions.

‘Hot Feminist’ book launch. Image: Twitter

So. Wearily. Here we go: I couldn’t ever take the pill (makes me sad and a bit sick) so I stopped trying; had a medium-sized fling with a man who one night (while I was too tipsy to adequately monitor the situation) claimed he’d used a condom when he hadn’t (abortion one!); had a toxic relationship with a controlling and manipulative individual (5) who expressed his contempt for women in general and me in particular by refusing to wear condoms, and I was too vulnerable and enthralled to protest (abortion two!); and then just messed up with someone completely lovely, because that happens too (abortion three!). Three messy, icky, silly scenarios; but then, messy, icky, silly scenarios are often all that lies behind unwanted pregnancies.

Here’s what I learned about abortions. They are fine. Mine were fine. Not particularly harrowing or traumatic or painful. The hardest part of my abortions by far was the fear I experienced before the first – a direct consequence of my having been convinced by a lifetime’s consuming of soap opera storylines, the stern warnings of people I mistook for authority figures and the prevailing wisdom that I’d endure awful consequences from a termination, that my mental health would suffer, or there would be awful unforeseen life repercussions; that, at the very least, I’d be poleaxed by guilt and regret. When I wasn’t poleaxed by either guilt or regret, I was virtually ecstatic.

(5) Sadly, being a feminist doesn’t entirely protect you from taking up
with bad lovers.

‘You mustn’t feel guilty. Do you feel guilty?’ a friend asked me, the day after abortion one. ‘Nope!’ I said, because I didn’t. ‘Good!’ She paused. ‘Do you feel guilty about not feeling guilty? I’ve read that’s quite common.’ ‘Um . . . nope!’ I said, because I didn’t. ‘Right. Um . . . Guilty about not feeling guilty about not feeling guilty?’ she persisted. ‘Not guilty on any counts. Mostly, just glad not to feel sick all the time,’ I said. I accept, of course, that everyone’s experience of abortion is different. I know some people suffer horribly. But I also feel that this perspective – the regret-laden, guilt-addled, consequence-engendering, depression-activating perspective – on abortion is already well represented. It’s out there, isn’t it? Widespread and pervasive enough to fill me with what proved to be unnecessary anxiety in the build up to mine.

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Which is why I need to make it clear that mine did not hurt, physically or emotionally, that I have not one shred of regret, and that this is definitely an option on how to feel after having an abortion. I also want to make it clear that it must always and forever be up to the owner-operator of the womb in question to decide whether or not a pregnancy is allowed to proceed. There are people who believe otherwise. There are people who believe that life begins at conception, and who equate abortion with murder. They call themselves Pro-Lifers –though other people call them Anti-Choicers and I call them Ovary-Botherers; which is not terribly grown up of me, but I can get puerile when riled. They are driven by equivalent passion and rage to mine, which I should respect; except that I can’t, because I simply do not believe that my  internal organs – and their contents – are anyone’s business but mine.

So there you are. Three of the things that really, truly offend me, in no particular order. Pay, rape, abortion rights: three of the things I shout about and keep informed on and watch and worry about. It’s specialised offence, if you like. It stops me getting overwhelmed with ill-directed rage; it also stops me sweating the small stuff, the stuff that could otherwise clog up my feminist fury ducts, overload and confuse me.

Some things simply are much more of an affront to women’s struggle for equality than others, and it does not behove us to get cross about all of it. So Female Genital Mutilation is a much more important and pressing feminist issue than ‘man-slamming’, the recently identified but in no-way-new phenomenon of men bashing their way impatiently forward through crowded streets.

It is only seemly that we minimise the offense we express over man-slamming in the interest of saving it up for the FGM. Of course, it may well be that the smaller things and the bigger things are interconnected, that the things that don’t offend me feed into the things that do; but there will always be feminists whose offence focus differs to mine, catching the offence balls I’m choosing to drop. And I still argue that the really effective way to deal with the shit that drives you crazy is to deal with the shit that drives you crazy, while not getting too stressed about the shit that doesn’t – but might be related.

It makes our outrage more convincing, gives it more momentum, means we don’t spend most of our waking life in the unenviable position of feeling cross all the time. Save your offence for the times you really feel it.

‘This is an extract from Hot Feminist by Polly Vernon, published by Hachette Australia. Paperback $29.99, Ebook $16.99.’

 

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