Just Say No? On The Reality Of Consent #metoo #ibelieveher #heforshe

Just say no?

Consent. How easy is it to define it? When girls are brought up to be polite and boys to speak their minds. When women who achieve and express themselves have been written out of history. When men still earn more than women on average. When rape within marriage only became illegal in the UK in 1991, in the US in 1993, and in some countries is still legal. When the first thing people comment to a girl is how pretty she is. When girls are dumbing themselves down to fit in and not be bullied. When a boy harassing a girl is because he must like her and boys will be boys. When pornography portrays the abuse and subjugation of women. When women in the media are sacked for getting old. When women being ambitious are ‘power grabbing’ but for men it’s normal behaviour. When women are still ‘girls’ when they are 25. When women do most of the housework and childcare even when they have a job too. When women in powerful roles are judged for how they dress but powerful men for what they say. When a woman who says ‘yes’ is a slut and a woman who says ‘no’ is frigid. When in rape trials the victim is interrogated for longer than the accused. When speaking up about sexual abuse is just attention grabbing and makes men feel uncomfortable. When a grope is just harmless banter. When a woman is told that, ‘It’s not all men’ (yes, we knew that) in order to silence her. When adventurous women are told to #makemeasandwich. When a woman has reached the end of her tether from being taken for granted and she is told she is oversensitive. When an angry woman is ‘hormonal’. When a woman’s illness takes longer to be diagnosed because she’s perceived as a neurotic female and not taken seriously. When the man in the meeting says, “Thanks, love, I’ll take it from here. Go and make the tea.” When men’s football is football and women’s football is women’s football. When men make business deals excluding their female colleagues. When men appropriate the work of women to claim the profits for themselves. When it takes women-only shortlists to get women into parliament because of the underhand tactics keeping them out. When a man is mansplaining to a woman something that she has just explained to him. When a man tells a woman how to do her job when she is more qualified and experienced than he is. When women who speak up for women’s rights are ‘frigid man-haters’ or ‘hairy-legged lesbians’ (surprised?) When strangers on Twitter send a woman death threats because they don’t like her song. When a woman receives death threats for saying it’s not ok to threaten and attack women. When a woman is murdered every three days by her partner or ex-partner. When beautiful young women are disfigured by acid attacks. When a woman is torched by her husband’s family. When women are silenced even by other women for making a fuss about rape. When a woman changes her mind in the middle of a first date because he said something that made her uncomfortable but then he turns angry. When a man makes demeaning sexual comments about other women in front of his wife. When a man shows affection in public by gripping his girlfriend’s neck. When school boys make hit lists of girls to be raped. When a woman dare not report domestic abuse because she fears her children will be taken away. When she sees he has a machete behind the settee.

When, just when, can you call it consent? When you can see how the power balance lies. When the man in front of you is three times your size, drunk and pinning you against the wall, flashing a leery grin, and snarling, ‘Hello my pretty.’ When you are scared of the look in his eyes. When the man on top of you suddenly declines to use a condom. When he’s pressed all his weight to your body. When he’s pressed all the weight of the patriarchy against you, just how loud do you think you can say no?

What can we do sisters? When the weight of the patriarchy is pressed against us? It takes courage to stand up for ourselves against such a force. What we need to do is stand up for ourselves and for each other. When we all speak up together our voices will be heard. The #metoo movement is the beginning of that, as is #ibelieveher and #heforshe. Both women and men can stand as allies against abusive, domineering behaviour, and against inequality and injustice. There will be those who try to shout us down—the last desperate voices of a dying ideology. They will fight hard and nasty. They are fighting for an entitlement of centuries standing. They think it is the natural order because they have grown up in it, and because it benefits them. Like the abolition of slavery and apartheid, the battle is long but it will be won.

We can keep in mind that centuries of inequality have biased perceptions and therefore influence the course of justice. We need to change from the default state of assumption that a woman is ‘asking for it’ when she is sexually assaulted and recognise the trauma that she goes through to stand up in court and be cross examined. We can call out those who objectify and disrespect our sisters. This is not ‘political correctness gone mad’. The world is mad and we are the ones who can see it. It takes a little effort to find new ways of relating, but it is not going to destroy you to recognise the rights of women to respect and equality. Is your masculinity is so fragile as to be threatened by strong women? Surely not. A man who can respect and honour women, in touch with his gentle self as well as his strength is truly a man worthy of respect. It takes courage to recognise our vulnerability and seek true connection.

We have moved closer to employment equality but there is still a long way to go. Women still have to battle for appropriate levels of respect and acknowledgment in the workplace. We need to call out those who patronise women in the workplace, those who judge women on their appearance before their abilities, those seek to appropriate the achievements of women. We need to insist on acknowledgement of our intelligence and capability and appropriate levels of pay to reflect that. We have the right to expect these things just as men do. The feminine approach to life is undervalued in the workplace. And look where that has got us to—the greed and cruelty of the planet-destroying, people-destroying insanity of capitalism.

Feminine does not equate with weakness. Feminine power has a different quality to masculine power, but it is not lesser by any means. We can complement, balance and moderate each other if we collaborate. It is not that one energy is better than the other, but that when they are out of balance, it is destructive. The most important things we can do as women are to speak out from our place of feminine power, support our sisters, respect the men who have the courage to stand with us as allies, and stand in support of others who experience unjust prejudice and abuse, including people of colour, immigrants, queers, the disabled. The most important thing those in positions of privilege can do is listen, listen, listen and direct others to do the same. Because people can speak for themselves.

The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas stood up and spoke out against gun violence. They stood together. Because #enoughisenough
The victims of Harvey Weinstein stood up and spoke out against sexual violence. They stood together. Because #enoughisenough
Protestors in support of the woman in the Dublin rape case stood up and spoke out against injustice. They stood together. Because #enoughisenough
There were backlashes against all of these who spoke out with courage and dignity. Of course there were. But that will no longer stop us from speaking our truth. We cannot be silenced. Because we are too many.
The tide is turning.

We say NO
And we say it damn loud.

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

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Never Give Up

In 2015, due to a serious illness, I had an operation that paralysed one of my vocal cords. Four months later I needed another operation which paralysed the other vocal cord. Due to my illness I had given up performing and started writing instead. After nearly three years of patience, perseverance and speech therapy I recovered enough control of my speaking voice to start performing my poetry. I love what I am doing and appreciate every moment. I have just started singing again. I may or may not get full control of my singing voice. It’s ok. I enjoy it for what it is. If I hadn’t lost my voice I would never have found my new voice as a poet. Three years ago I wouldn’t have believed I’d be back up on stage at all. The difficulties I have had to deal with have shown me opportunities and skills I didn’t know I had. It’s a long road but I have never given up hope. The things I have been through have shown me how strong I am. If you have a passion for something, if you live for it, you will find a way. Be patient and kind to yourself. Trust your process. Hold your dreams without being too attached to specific outcomes. Set yourself small targets. It may take time and you may have to adapt your plans, but if that is where your heart and soul is, you will find a way. Never give up.

©️ Janey Colbourne 2018

For My Sisters And Brothers Of Colour

For My Sisters And Brothers Of Colour

I know I have no right to stand here
and attempt to speak for my sisters
and brothers of colour.
I stand here in awe to applaud
their strength and their courage,
their patience in the face of
relentless abuse.

As a child I was picked on,
excluded, abused;
I was ginger with freckles.
But now I am grown,
I doubt I’ve been ever
turned down for a job
or a house,
OK, maybe a date or two,
for my colour.

I have had a peep, a wee hint,
just a glimpse
of the blindness of ignorant fools,
the hurt and the horror,
the terror of being the one
who is different
but really the same.

I know I have no right to stand here
and attempt to speak for my sisters
and brothers of colour.
I stand here in awe to applaud
their strength and their courage,
their patience in the face of
relentless abuse.

My dear fellow humans.
Were we all not born
as tender and fragile,
as needing of love, to be held?
Now we stand for what we believe,
and I stand for solidarity.
I stand with my sisters
and brothers of colour,
not to speak over, or for,
those who speak for themselves.
I stand to applaud.
These words are my standing ovation.

© Janey Colbourne 2018

Common Ground. A spoken word poem about prejudice.

Common Ground

All religions can be used or misused,
misconstrued or abused.
All religions may have their mystics,
moral believers, payers of lip service
and fundamentalist terrorists.

Interpretations are as varied as humanity.
Dogma is not exclusive to religion.
Even skeptics, atheists and scientists
are not immune. It’s a human frailty,
a vulnerability, born of the desire for certainty:
the fear of the unknown.
You build your walls of illusory security.

There are few certainties in life,
but one I do know: cut us open and
we’re all the same colour on the inside.
So wind your redneck in. Have some courage.
Open your fucking door,
and for the sake of any god you like,
shake hands with your neighbour.
You’ll find common ground.

©️ Janey Colbourne 2018

The Saga of the Loyalty Card

“Would you like a loyalty card?”

“Does that require a complex process right now, broadcasting all my personal details and signing my life away? I only want a coffee.”

I am tired and going for a train.

“No, no. I’ll just activate your card right now and add your points and when you get home you can go online and enter this website, then register your card, then we’ll send you emails every time we can offer you a free drink. It’s really simple.”

Yeah simple. Even though I am fully internet savvy. This is not simple.

“Do you know I have a wad of loyalty cards in my purse an inch thick? I don’t want emails. I have 5000 unread emails.”

“Why wouldn’t you want an email when you’re getting something free? It’s a free drink.”

“I don’t care. It’s too complicated.”

Really, I think, although I’m not rich, is it really worth it?

“It’s not complicated. Do you have a smartphone? You can get our app, then it’s really easy, you can just click on the app….blah blah blah”

My brain filters out.

“Stop, no thanks I do not want an app.”

“But it’s really easy. You get free drinks…”

In the end I gave up. He wasn’t listening. I took the card home and threw it away. Yes, really wasteful of me. Disgraceful.

I do not want an app for every single shop that I go to. Do you think I want to fill my phone, my emails, my attention, my consciousness, my entire life with shopping shit?

A simple loyalty card, that’s fine. Collect the stamps, then claim your freebie. But your loyalty is not enough. No. They want your soul.

It’s too complicated. Even though I am intelligent, computer literate, even internet addicted, it’s too complicated. They want your email, your ID, your loyalty, your attention, your consumption, your cash, your credit card number, your date of birth, your family, your friends, your habits, your hobbies.

“But it makes life easier!”

No, life was easier in the first place. You made it complicated, so you could hoodwink us into signing up to make it easier, by signing up to be pestered and harassed constantly.

Do you know how many companies send DAILY emails to their subscribers? Clearly they think we are sitting there waiting with baited breath to read the one and only email we get that day. I don’t even talk to my friends everyday. Just because I expressed an interest, dear organisation, who looked perhaps relevant to my life and worthy of further attention, does not mean I want to marry you. If you come on too strong, I will divorce you, nay I will take out an injunction. Do not come within a 1000 yards of my email address. Ever. Again.

That was 2016.

Fast forward to 2018, same company, different branch:

My wad of loyalty cards has grown, such that it takes me five minutes to find the right one at the till in each shop. But I still haven’t registered with these guys, because, well, priorities. And by now both my phone and tablet are too full for any more apps. There is no way a shopping app gets a look in on my devices. All my apps are for my work. Somehow I have acquired a loyalty card for this place, but failed to take the vital next step. I’m not sure what is holding me back from committing to this relationship. I must be a player.

“Have you registered this card? No? Well your points won’t be valid. You need to go online and register this card.”

“Oh yes and then you’ll be sending me emails. Do you know I have 10,000 unread emails?” Yes, it’s 10,000 now. (Ok, I know. I should delete them.)

My daughter interjects, “She’s not exaggerating.”

“Oh I couldn’t be doing with that, I have to deal with things straight away.”

Ok Mr Judge.

“No mate, these are emails I’m not going to read, because I’m not interested.”

He really doesn’t get it. I’ve been self-employed since 2001. I’m a disabled single mum with ADHD. I have a busy life, a pile of never-ending paperwork, endless emails. I have a backlog even of the ones I like to read. The volume of unread information I have saved for later is utterly, overwhelmingly vast. Because I’m a writer. It’s all information that is relevant, interesting, useful or essential. My life is full enough.

“So, are you going to register?”

“Well, ok, if I get round to it.”

“Do you like the design of this card?”

I shrug, “Well it’s ok.”

“Would you prefer one of these designs?”

I begin to panic. I thought he was just looking for feedback. Not another damn range of options. Will I ever get my coffee? Is this the Café California?

“No. I don’t care. It’s going in my purse.”

I’m mystified as to the possible importance of the card design to a blatantly scruffy, middle-aged woman (well, I’m a writer, innit?) who has already declared her complete lack of commitment. I’m not sure how he came to the conclusion it was the design of the card itself that was putting me off. But here we are. I fatefully uttered the magic words, “Please can I have a latte?” We are now hurtling through the portal to the Magical Land of Accessories, where we all love shopping till our arms drop off. Thank the gods I stopped myself from facetiously asking for platypus milk with my daughter’s mocha. Who knows what twisted universe we might have ended up in.

“But look, you could get one to match your smartphone.”

Through gritted teeth, I just manage to keep my tone light, “I’m not remotely bothered. I’m not going to look at it. It’s just functional. To be honest, what’s wrong with just a basic loyalty card and a stamp?”

He reaches over to pick up a different card. Give me strength. I know he means well.

“No, really, this one is fine. Not another piece of plastic. Let’s save the planet.”

I just manage to stop myself gleefully blurting, “That’ll be 38 dollars,” as he finally turns his attention to the till. After all, there’s no need to be rude. Those card designs were pretty fabulous, darling.

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

P.S. Perhaps I should have shown him my smartphone.

“Have you got a card to match this please?”

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#marchforourlives #guncontrolnow

On 24 March 2018 the students of Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School led the March For Our Lives demonstration in Washington DC, along with similar events across the world, to ask for changes to gun laws in the US, following a mass shooting at their school on 14 February 2018, in which 17 students were killed and 17 injured by a former student with an assault rifle. The demonstration was the largest student demonstration in American history. The demonstration was also a platform for young black people to speak up about the shootings of black people that often don’t make the headline news. The courage, strength and determination of these young people has me in awe.

What kind of world is it where the kids have to organise a protest because the adults failed to protect them? What kind of a world is it where kids are throwing up at the podium, with tear streaked faces, and they are being told they are not old enough to ask permission for their friends not to die, when they are not even asking for a ban on guns, but for a compromise. It’s starting to sound like the pleading of abuse victims trying to negotiate with their all-powerful abusers. What kind of a world is it where teenagers are examples of courage and fortitude, standing up in front of billions to ask for consideration of their personal safety, to ask that they can go to school and make it home alive? What kind of a world is it where the words of children move us to tears? What kind of a world is it where an 11 year old has more guts than many adults, to stand in front of nations to represent her people? Out of the mouths of babes…
We think we bring kids into the world to raise them and teach them, but it’s the other way around. They are the ones who show us where we need to grow.
If they can find the courage, so must we.

Janey Colbourne 25 March 2018

#marchforourlives

More about ‘It’s Not A Trend, It’s A Necessity’ plus a #specialoffer for my followers

In my last blog post I shared a spoken word poem I’d written recently, It’s Not A Trend, It’s A Necessity #spokenword, inspired by a comment I heard on the BBC TV programme ‘The Kardashian Effect’, in reference to having eyebrows styled. “It’s not a trend, it’s a necessity,” was the phrase that stuck in my mind because that says to me such a person has lost sight of reality. It is trend, and it most certainly is not a necessity. Clean water, food and shelter are necessities. The programme went on to show how people are having ‘butt implants’ and other forms of plastic surgery. On the one hand this is an extreme example of privilege-having the money and resources to fulfil such superficial desires, but underneath it is an even more sinister implication-that those who live in this culture are in a sense no more free than those who live in oppressed and war torn societies. The capitalist system is a prison that gives the illusion of freedom. Freedom to slavishly follow someone else’s idea of beauty, to the extent of mutilating your own body. Not only that, but the desperate pursuit of material goals by those who can afford it maintains the imbalance of wealth inequality and injustice across the world. There are many layers of meaning, significance and connection I can see in this scenario, so I think a poem carries the layers much better than any amount of explanation. Even better, let’s put it with some music for added impact. I’ve taken some of the poem to use as rap lyrics, a sample of which you can listen to above on the SoundCloud link. The full track is available to buy as a high quality download or unlimited streaming on my bandcamp site, which you can get to by clicking ‘buy’ under the SoundCloud track or to go directly to the bandcamp page, click here, where you can listen to the track in full before deciding to buy. I released this track yesterday, which happened to be my birthday, so as a birthday treat I’m offering my followers a 50% discount on this track up until midnight on Sunday 18th March. To get the discount, use the code ‘happybirthday’ at the checkout. This means the track will cost a bargain 60p including VAT. If you would like to pay more to support my work, then just enter the amount you wish to pay, for which I would be supremely grateful.

©Janey Colbourne 2018