I decided I was going to walk until I didn’t feel angry anymore and I made it as far as Ocean Terminal. I was seeking bright lights, loud music and ‘coffee and cake’ deals. This is annihilation for the respectable woman, self-destruction for the boring, broke and generally well-behaved.
So I am sitting with my pens and paper because I don’t want to turn on the computer, because the internet is too annoying; I am bored of having the things I know about filtered through the same voices. The referendum wasn’t really happening, but now some white middle class Englishmen have decided it might be important after all. It used to be ok for poor northern girls to be raped and tortured but now some white middle class English men have decided that it is not ok. We need to have an enquiry about all the people who are raping and abusing children but we keep choosing the wrong white middle class people to hold it, say more white middle class English people. But why is all this getting to me, why am I so angry?
I never thought I would have to try and find out quite so much about myself. But in thinking about what might be the entitled brain I inevitably end up looking at the flip side, what has made my brain so unentitled? Because in this rigid structure where everyone knows their place it takes as much to teach people they will never rule the world as to teach them that they should and will. Some of the teaching methods might even be very similar, from actions to abuse to architecture. One way or another you absorb your entitlement or lack of it your whole life.
I remember one day when I had taken my children to the seaside going to choose an ice-cream. I ordered theirs and asked for one for me too, I’ll have one scoop of vanilla I said. I watched as the man made me up a scoop of strawberry and I didn’t say anything, then he looked up at me. Oh sorry it was vanilla you wanted wasn’t it? Its ok it doesn’t matter I said, I” just eat it, but he fixed my gaze (he was incredibly attractive BTW). “You don’t have to, if you don’t want to”. Somehow this was a message the universe had failed to pass on to me before now, and as he scooped the unwanted strawberry back into the tub and got out the vanilla it was all I could do not throw myself into his arms and weep decades worth of relieved tears.
Of course nothing will reinforce the doing things you don’t want to message quite like motherhood. From the violations and humiliations of interventionist childbirth, to the bodily assault that is breast-feeding, to all the privations of wifery and parenting. By all means, go right ahead and bring the medical student in with the rest of your team to talk to my vagina rather than my face. Ok, no problem, I won’t look at the stitches if you think it will give me nightmares. Yeah sure, I am a bit tired after forty hours of labour and my breasts are a little sore but do just grab them and put them in the little noisy person’s mouth that’s fine. I’ll sit in the wet patch, bite the brown bit off your banana, I’ll eat the sandwich that fell in the puddle and the sausage that fell in the bbq coals and can I wipe anyone else’s arse while I am about it? We mums know we are bottom of the heap, but maybe I have known that for longer.
I keep thinking back to being a teenager, I suppose its Rotherham being in the news, it not a million miles from where I am from, in all kinds of ways. The “night time economy”, the older men, the underlying racism, the disenfranchised young women looking for glimpses of power in the arms of disenfranchised angry men all sounds a bit familiar. Did it go as horribly wrong for the girls I knew as it did a few postcodes away? I don’t suppose I will ever know. But I can’t help imagining how easily it might have.
I know there is a big shout out for better sex education and I seem to remember sex education at my school was actually pretty good. I definitely remember my form teacher telling us that ‘you don’t have to have sex with people if you don’t want to. You can say NO, you don’t have to just say you are on your period’. Such was the powerful feminist message that had filtered into inner city Bradford by the nineteen nineties. I remember me and the other girls on our table looking at each other as if to say ‘yeah right, as if, I think we’ll just stick to the period thing’; after all it worked for swimming lessons. There was a strange kind of conservatism, a sense of what was expected of you. One of the worst insults at school was to be ‘frigid’. Perhaps worse still was to be a ‘prick-tease’. There was a desperation to please, to give men what they deserved. But again something more than that…
For a group of young women, sex was the only hope of(illusory) power we had. I was different, I was probably going to get the hell away from Bradford, but I remember the fantasy of sex as power, of being loved and wanted. I remember the books I devoured, the excitement of wanting to be Abigail, searching for John Procter to shake me from my sleep and show me what pretence all Salem was, and sweat like a stallion when I was near. Hanging around windows and doors, writing in the sodding margins, waiting for Heathcliff, who would probably knock me around a bit but love me passionately. Who could ask for more than that? We were all so vulnerable. Where people feel worthless and powerless there will be abuse.
So maybe that is why I am angry. Because we as long as all the structures and the institutions are the same we will still be giving people the same messages and there will always be those at the bottom of the heap who learn to tolerate it, and those at the top who turn a blind eye because they learned to tolerate it too, just in different ways. And the same bloody voices will all be telling us about it and how to think about it. Unless we speak up, and the voices mingle, and everyone find their place wasn’t quite so rigid after all. And I might still bite the brown bit of your banana, but only because I love you, but I’ll have the ice cream I actually wanted and I’ll claim a little bit more of what I might have been entitled to all along.